LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — Congress has set aside $200 million this fiscal year for the Department of Homeland Security to develop two permanent joint migrant processing centers on the Southwest border where various federal agencies will work together to process and care for asylum-seekers, Border Report has learned.
These European-style “one-stop” centers will replace costly soft-sided processing facilities that sprung up this past year during a surge of migrants on the Southwest border, according to congressional documents obtained by Border Report.
It is unclear where the new joint processing facilities will be built, but U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee told Border Report that he expects at least one processing center to be located in the Rio Grande Valley, which has had the highest apprehension and migrant encounter rates along the Southwest border.
DHS has 90 days to report to the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee on its plans, according to the Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus bill passed by Congress earlier this month.
Cuellar described the new facilities as “one-stop centers” where all of the agencies that assist asylum-seekers are put together under one roof to better screen, process and provide care for migrants. This includes DHS’ U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and FEMA working in one location.
“We’re trying to put everybody together: ICE, ORR, all the different agencies together because right now they’re separate so we’re trying to get this one-stop center concept into play,” Cuellar said Monday as he announced funds passed by Appropriations to start a new I-27 trade corridor emanating from Laredo, Texas.
The joint concept is used in European countries and Cuellar said will cut down on transportation as well as other costs the U.S. government bears when migrants are sent to different locations.
“It’s a new concept because instead of doing things separately we want to put everybody together,” Cuellar said. “By providing services to everybody — including legal services, health services, everything together — all the agencies I think that will be more efficient and better for the migrants and quite honestly for the federal government.”
The idea of having multiple agencies under one roof has been used in some soft-sided processing facilities that were put up at the height of the migrant surge into South Texas last year.
But those facilities are costly and financially “not sustainable,” according to congressional documents.
One such tent facility, located in Donna, Texas, had FEMA agents working alongside counselors from HHS and healthcare workers to screen unaccompanied migrant children for lice and other ailments and then to process their paperwork and sort them under ORR’s care.
Building permanent structures is expected to save money in the long term.
“Increased migration to the U.S. Southern border over the past few years has strained the capabilities of CBP and ICE to both secure the border and to humanely process individuals in a timely manner,” according to congressional documents. “Beginning in 2019, CBP began leasing temporary, soft-sided facilities to help manage processing and mitigate overcrowding. Because the cost of leased facilities is not sustainable, the bill provides funding to construct two permanent facilities in close proximity to the border, which also provides an opportunity to design facilities that can help CBP and ICE better integrate their operations, reducing costs and time in CBP custody for individuals and returning agents to patrol the border.”
In order to secure the funds, Congress rescinded $120 million in emergency funds that had been earmarked for new CBP facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, Yuma, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas. Those monies will now be put toward the $200 million allocated for the two new permanent Joint Processing Centers, according to congressional documents Border Report has received.
Services provided under one roof will include: legal, health care, judicial, border security and child care, according to the documents.
Unaccompanied children, family units and single adult migrants will be sheltered at the facilities “as they undergo processing required under the immigration laws,” documents say.
The setup also will “enhance the coordination among federal agencies and between such agencies and nonprofit organizations or local jurisdictions that provide shelter and support to migrants following their release from DHS custody; and minimize the time migrants spend in DHS custody,” according to legislative directives.
When asked where Cuellar believes the facilities will be built he said, “Wherever the needs might be. But certainly one of them is going to be in the Rio Grande Valley, that’s where the numbers are.”
He said Del Rio, Texas, where 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants tried to cross in September, also is in need of a new permanent processing facility.
DHS officials have until June 9 to present the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee with their detailed report. That is 90 days from March 11 when Congress approved the massive $1.5 trillion omnibus bill, which contains these legislative funding directives.