The facility, at the corner of W. Ursula Avenue and Ware Road, has the capacity to hold 1,000 children. The warehouse is filled with four pods that can hold 250 children each. Chain-link fences serve as dividers and forest green mats were stacked in corners for sleeping.
For now, it will solely be used to process the influx of unaccompanied children coming from Central America, but Kevin Oaks, chief patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley Sector, said in the future it could be used to process other populations.
Tens of thousands of children have been taken into custody this fiscal year, causing what many believe is a humanitarian crisis as Border Patrol facilities have been flooded with the youths.
“The issue is very complex,” Oaks said. “We’re not talking about criminals or anything. We’re talking about a population of people that anybody in this room would do everything they could to support.”
At the height of the influx, Border Patrol had as many as 1,200 children in custody. But last week, Oaks said, there were only about 200.
Just the day before, he said, 80 children were picked up by agents.
Border Patrol has 72 hours to process the children at the facility, where they’ll get a shower, food and medical attention, before the children are handed over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The McAllen facility is the only one of its kind, and Oaks said there are no plans to open more unless conditions change. Leased through FEMA because Oaks said the money for construction wasn’t in his budget, the processing facility will be operational at least a year with 40 people operating it 24/7.
“These are innocent children fleeing desperate times, whether its poverty, whether its violence, whether its the draw of a better life in the United States, whether its reunification–whatever the reason, the aim of the Border Patrol is to do the best it can and make sure children are safe,” Oaks said.