June 28, 2019 / 5:24 AM / 4 months ago

U.S. border facility gives tour after accusations of neglect

MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. immigration officials took reporters on a tour of a Texas migrant holding facility on Thursday that was still overcrowded a week after lawyers raised concerns about conditions.

Flags wave in the breeze at the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center known as "Ursula" in McAllen, Texas, U.S., June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The McAllen facility - known as Ursula for the street it is on - is one of two Texas migrant holding centres accused by immigration lawyers of violating a legal settlement governing the treatment of minors in immigration detention.

The lawyers on Wednesday asked a federal judge to force the U.S. government to remedy what they characterized in court filings as “deplorable” conditions at the centre.

Migrant apprehensions on the U.S.-Mexico border reached a 13-year high in May and the centre, operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is crowded with 1,984 migrants in a facility with capacity for 1,500, according to Carmen Qualia a U.S. Border Patrol official who conducted the tour.

But unaccompanied children and families are now being released within a 72-hour limit, a legal requirement under the 1997 Flores agreement, Qualia said.

Children and teenagers at Ursula told the lawyers monitoring compliance with the Flores settlement this month of being held in cold cells and forced to care for sick toddlers separated from parents or other caregivers at the border.

On Thursday reporters saw stacks of clean clothes, toothbrushes, toothpaste and snacks for children, and the temperature was comfortable.

Three U.S. Coast Guard personnel in blue uniforms played on a mat with three toddlers.

Government personnel from other agencies have been called to the border to help process the ballooning number of migrants.

Between 500 and 600 extra government personnel have been transferred to Ursula after the centre’s usual staff of 120-150 Border Patrol agents were overwhelmed by the record numbers of migrant families.

The Trump administration, criticised for a policy of family separation last year, says it now only separates children from adults they are travelling with if there is some perceived risk to the child. It has given few details on what criteria are used to make those decisions.

Qualia blamed overcrowding at the centre for funding problems at other government agencies that it transfers migrants to.

Those financial shortages may be alleviated after Democrats reached a compromise with the White House on Thursday, passing a $4.6 billion aid package to address the migrant surge.

Reporting By Loren Elliott in McAllen, Texas; Editing by Robert Birsel

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