Hundreds of migrants are being detained under a bridge in El Paso amid a surge of families crossing the border. Border Patrol agents say there's nowhere else to put them.

  • Hundreds of migrants are being detained in a fenced-in enclosure under the Paso del Norte port of entry in El Paso, Texas, as border agents struggle to handle a major surge of Central American asylum-seekers.
  • Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the influx of migrants has reached a “breaking point,” and Border Patrol no longer has the resources to process and detain the migrants in its existing facilities.
  • A CBP spokesperson told INSIDER that the migrants detained under the bridge are provided with food, water, restrooms, and “everything to try to keep people as comfortable as possible.”
  • It’s unclear how much time migrants are kept in the enclosure before they’re processed and released.

Hundreds of migrants are being detained in a fenced-in enclosure under a bridge in El Paso, after a major surge in illegal border-crossings in recent weeks led to what US officials called a “breaking point” along the US-Mexico border.

Photos and videos shot by reporters and immigration advocates showed the families – some with young children – waving and peering through the fencing. There’s a tent inside the enclosure. The ground is strewn with mylar blankets.

Kevin McAleenan, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that the influx of migrants has reached “crisis” proportions, and Border Patrol lacks the resources to detain them in its typical holding facilities.

McAleenan said agents apprehended 4,117 migrants on Tuesday – the highest single-day total in more than a decade. The previous day, they apprehended 4,000.

As of Tuesday morning, 13,400 migrants were in Border Patrol custody, and the agency was so far past its capacity that agents began releasing migrants directly into the US after background checks – and without transferring them to ICE custody or fitting them with ankle monitors as they typically do.

“A high number for us is 4,000, a crisis level is 6,000 – 13,000 is unprecedented,” McAleenan said.

Read more: 4 reasons the number of families crossing the US-Mexico border illegally is soaring, and how Trump may have made the problem worse

It’s unclear how long migrants are being held under the bridge before they’re released. A CBP spokesperson told INSIDER on Thursday that the migrants have access to food, water, and restrooms while they wait in the enclosure.

“Everything to try to keep people as comfortable as possible,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement, a spokesperson described the enclosure as a “transitional shelter” set up within the last month underneath the Paso del Norte port of entry, adjacent to Border Patrol’s processing facility there.

“Due to the large volume of apprehensions within the El Paso Station’s Area of Responsibility, the agency has undertaken additional measures to facilitate processing. As illegal aliens arrive at the processing facility, they are placed at the ‘tent’ to await their turn to be processed,” the statement said. “This tent serves only as a transitional shelter and is not a temporary housing facility.”

A huge influx of families instead of single men is pushing government resources to their limits

Though border apprehensions are still far below the peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000, McAleenan said the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

This influx of migrants is a highly vulnerable population comprised of families and unaccompanied children, and they pose new challenges for the US agents detaining them in facilities designed only to hold adults for short stays, he said.

Unlike the old population of largely single, Mexican adults, this new wave of Central American families cannot be arrested and quickly deported – they frequently lodge asylum claims that can take years to wind through the immigration court system.

“This stark and increasing shift to more vulnerable populations, combined with overwhelming numbers and inadequate capacity for detained families at ICE and Human Services respectively, is creating a humanitarian crisis,” McAleenan said.

Some of the migrants are sick and need medical care

Many of the migrants are also severely ill, resulting in agents taking roughly 60 migrants per day to hospitals. McAleenan said agents have seen infants with fevers of 105 degrees, a two-year-old child suffering seizures in the desert, and even a 19-year-old woman with congenital heart failure who needed emergency surgery.

He said Border Patrol has even set up “quarantine cells” to handle the migrants with the flu, chicken pox, and lice.

Lawmakers and immigration advocates have already begun weighing in on the images of the migrants, criticising CBP for detaining them in such poor conditions.

“When you’re looking at this photo, you’re looking at a mirror. This is America. This is Texas,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Thursday. “This is our the course of action, the one we chose. I cannot and will not accept it.”

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