EL PASO, Texas — Border officials in El Paso, Texas, this spring began separating migrants in federal custody based on nationality due to hostility and tension between Central and South American detainees who were being held in the same cells and even areas of facilities, according to several federal agents. The practice continued at least into June.
In Border Patrol facilities across the southern border, detainees are assigned to holding cells or rooms that are organized by unaccompanied children, families, adult men, and adult women. However, agents in El Paso said they chose to add additional groups within those categories earlier this spring after they started seeing tensions rise between different nationalities.
“There’s friction between Cubans, Brazilians, and the Central Americans,” one Border Patrol agent told the Washington Examiner.
El Paso is the only one of the Border Patrol’s nine regions along the U.S.-Mexico border that has seen Cuban citizens arrive at the border this year. The agent said when Cubans were introduced into facilities, detainees did not respond well. The sector opted to additionally separate people based on country of origin to avoid verbal or physical fights among people being held in confined spaces.
In response, the El Paso Station on Gateway South Boulevard, the region’s largest of its 11 facilities, moved earlier this summer to set up tents to hold all families and then later separated the families in custody by nationality.
“These yellow tan tents — these tents are segregated as well, which they weren’t originally,” a local union official explained. “It’s all family units. Cubans are in this first section closest to us, Hondurans and Guatemalans in the middle section.”
In May, this facility set up two massive air-conditioned white tents behind the main building and small yellow pods. Customs and Border Protection said the larger of the two tents would hold 500 people and include areas dedicated to eating, sleeping, recreation, and hygiene.
However, a Border Patrol agent who granted the Washington Examiner exclusive access onto the property during a recent visit said sector management has packed 1,500 people into the one tent and sectioned it off in June by nationality.
“These pods are all sectioned off similar to how those tents are sectioned off because, again as that agent explained to you, there’s animosity between the different groups, so they section them off for safety,” the union official said. “It’s just a big wide open room with a guard tower in the middle.”
The sector was already pressed for enough room to keep children, families, and adults separated from one another and opted to move its Cuban adult population to a Forward Operation Base
Cubans taken into custody were transported 120 miles west of the city to Camp Ramsey Forward Operating Base, where some are held up to a month before being transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to a lack of immediate bed space at ICE facilities.
The sector did not respond to a request about whether it is still separating detainees in this manner.
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