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.
The McAllen facility - known as Ursula for the street it is on - is one of two Texas migrant holding centers 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 center.
Migrant apprehensions on the U.S.-Mexico border reached a 13-year high in May and the center, 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 center’s usual staff of 120-150 Border Patrol agents were overwhelmed by the record numbers of migrant families.
The Trump administration, criticized for a policy of family separation last year, says it now only separates children from parents and legal guardians they are traveling 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 center 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.
(Story corrects paragraph 11 to read ... parents and legal guardians (not adults) they are traveling with)
Reporting By Loren Elliott in McAllen, Texas; Editing by Robert Birsel