June 15, 2021

“In late June 2021, ACLU representatives joined a brief official tour of the Anzalduas TOPS, during
which Border Patrol representatives described the site as being used exclusively to
hold families with children under 7 years old.

The temperature was in the 90s. For the dozens of children and adults detained
outdoors in the heat, only a fan and a set of overhead sprinklers provided plainly
inadequate cooling. At a meeting in May, a Border Patrol representative justified
holding families in the South Texas summer heat by egregiously claiming that the
conditions are preferable to many migrants, who Border Patrol described as “not
used to air conditioning.”

In addition to having no basic temperature controls, the TOPS has a bare-bones
structure that lacks other minimal protections. Families are funneled through a
series of outdoor areas surrounded by plastic fencing. We observed them being held
in an area with hard benches and gravel as the only places to rest or sleep.

Border Patrol told us there is no medical staff on site beyond emergency medical
personnel, and the nearest paved road to get to medical aid is a five to 10 minute
drive away. Border Patrol has even given us conflicting answers about what, if any,
detention standards apply to the site. This is particularly troubling since detention
standards mandate a “reasonable and comfortable” temperature for those detained
— contrary to the very design of the TOPS.

Just last week in the Rio Grande Valley, we interviewed recently released families
with small children who reported that thousands of people were being held at the

site. Every family reported spending two or three days under the bridge. Mothers
shared that Border Patrol denied their pleas for medical care for sick children and
that they experienced miserable conditions in high temperatures.

The TOPS has also been shrouded in secrecy. There are no telephones for migrants,
and, like all Border Patrol facilities, no in-person visits are allowed. As pictures of a
make-shift outdoor site began to surface earlier this year showing families with
small children sleeping on the ground in corral-like holding areas, we filed a
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking details. We wanted to know
how long people were being held outdoors and how Border Patrol was ensuring the
safety of those in custody. Over four months later, the agency still hasn’t responded
to our FOIA request.

Subsequent reporting and our own interviews confirmed that families were being
held outdoors under the bridge for multiple days, without adequate access to
medical care, subjected to verbal abuse by Border Patrol agents, and suffering from
first cold springtime and then hot summer temperatures.”

Source: ACLU, “Border Patrol Must Stop Holding People in an Inhumane Outside Pen Under a Highway in South Texas”, August 2021. <https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/border-patrol-must-stop-holding-people-in-an-inhumane-outside-pen-under-a-highway-in-south-texas/>

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Disregard to Public Health

Accountability Status: No steps taken