The darkness had fallen, but few in this narrow outdoor detention camp would sleep.
Most immigrants who were hammering in the cold desert air had only thin blankets of insulated plastic to protect them from the wind. Rows of families, including small children and babies, lie directly on the dirt floor. Some had lived like this, exposed to the elements under an El Paso bridge for four days.
The fast-paced holders, US immigration officials say, are an extreme but necessary response to a recent rise in Central American families that have illegally entered the country in recent months and asked for asylum.
At a press conference in El Paso this week, the US Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that an increase in such arrivals has pushed the total number of immigrants detained at the US borders not seen for more than a decade, with a particularly large increase here on the far western edge of Texas. His agency, McAleenan said, had hit a "break" and ran out of space to treat asylum seekers.
The many families shaking each night under the bridge in El Paso highlight a seismic shift in the type of immigrants trying to reach the United States in recent years ̵
A decade ago, most of the people arrested at the border were single adult men who had been caught trying to sneak into the United States, but in recent weeks, nearly two-thirds of those detained by US agents have been families who turned to officials and asked for asylum.
Every day, large groups of asylum seekers have crossed the low river and then are waiting for the narrow strip of American territory north of the river and south of a newly built part of the wall. Sooner or later, khaki-clad Border Patrol pulls up agents in vans and picks them up.
U.S. Officials and migration experts say the country's border infrastructure is simply not equipped to handle this new wave of border crossers.
After all, the Border Patrol's mission is to discover people who are illegally entering the United States, not house and treat thousands of asylum seekers every day.
Likewise, the country's congested immigration judges are not equipped to test the hundreds of thousands of asylum cases the US expects to see this year. Currently, more than 855,000 immigration cases await court ruling, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which means that asylum seekers are waiting for more than 700 days on average to see a judge.
When President Trump turned his controversial policy of separating parents and children at the border last year, families requesting asylum have been treated by immigration officials and then released to the United States with an asylum date years ahead.
The recent rapid release of such families seems to contribute to mass emigration from Central America, with an estimated 1% of the entire population of Honduras and Guatemala coming to be arrested at the border this year, said Adam Isacson, a researcher at the Washington Office think tank in Latin America.
"There is a message that if you think you should leave, it's time," he said.
What is Isacson said there is no more front fence, but more help for the Central American countries to address the root causes of the migration and a mass rental of new immigration judges to reduce the backlog of the case.
The United States has seen an u ptick of asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied children over the last five years, he said, and American politics must adapt to it. "This is the new normal," he said.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the asylum seeker's recent infatuation and paints them as economic immigrants using the asylum process as a back door to the United States. At a rally in Michigan on Thursday, the president mocked those requesting asylum and called their efforts to win protection in the United States "a great fat con job".
"This is definitely an undeniable way of treating people. Don't let children sleep during underpasses."
Taylor Levy, Legal Coordinator at Annunciation House
Migrant lawyers insist that many of these crosses have legal fears of returning to their homelands. They say the outdoor holding center under the El Paso Bridge is evidence that the United States does not treat migrants humanly.
"This is definitely an undeniable way of treating people," said Taylor Levy, legal coordinator at Annunciation House, a wandering shelter in El Paso. "Don't let children sleep under underpasses."
The story of an immigrant father who crossed the border with El Paso on March 21 with his 9-year-old son and asked for asylum emphasizes the complexity of the problem.
Elmer, a 32-year-old from Guatemala who gave his first name only because he said he fears persecution from home and from US immigration authorities, promised to pay a smuggler $ 6,000 to move him to the US border.
The smuggler told him to bring his son on the journey because while single adults seeking asylum are typically detained for months under US policy, asylum-seeking families are released.
Elmer said eight of his relatives and 10 of his son's grade-schoolmates had left the same way in recent months thanks to increasing crime in the city where they live and the falling price of coffee beans that hit farmers like Elmer. In Guatemala, he earned less than $ 10 a day.
The couple's long trek north with a number of smugglers was long and often scary, Elmer said. When they crossed Mexico packed on hot buses, he worried that he and his son could be kidnapped by criminal groups known to exchange immigrants.
But the worst moment came when they crossed into the United States and were correlated in the small outdoor holding pin in El Paso, which was surrounded by razor cable. A tent was created, but only a small proportion of the immigrants were there. Border Patrol officials say the area is meant as a "transitional protection", but Elmer and his son slept outside on dirt for four days. Sick immigrants coughed loudly and babies wailed all night. Adults, Elmer said, were fed two sandwiches each day.
"We were hungry and cold," he said. "It was some of the hardest days of my life."
The couple were finally treated for asylum and released to a local migrant shelter two days ago. On Thursday afternoon they were in the hand at the El Paso Greyhound station and waited to board the first of several buses to take them to Alabama, where two of Elmer's sisters live.
The station was crowded with dozens of immigrants who had just been released from federal custody, some of whom Elmer had lumped ankle monitors over their pants.
As soon as they reached Alabama, Elmer planned to call his wife who was in Guatemala with their younger son. 19659002] First, he said he would tell her he was safe. Then he said he would urge her not to make the long journey to him.
The nights outside the bridge in El Paso had been too difficult, he said. "I don't want them to run that risk."