Inside the Border Patrol’s largest migrant processing center

Set up in a converted warehouse during the 2014 child migrant crisis, the U.S. Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex., was created during President Barack Obama’s administration as an overflow site for families and children taken into custody after crossing the U.S. southern border. But in recent months it, too, has been stuffed beyond capacity. Derided as “la perrera” — Spanish for “the dog kennel” — by migrants and border agents alike, it was the focus of public anger when photographs of children behind chain-link fences circulated last year and brought accusations of “kids in cages.”

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Recently detained migrants, many who arrived with their families, await processing inside Border Patrol's Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex. on Aug. 12.

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A young child holds on to a chain-link fence inside the Texas processing center.

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Migrants can move freely within their holding pens, but unaccompanied minors, girls older than 10 and small children are assigned separate fenced-in areas that are monitored by agents and cameras. Between each holding area is a sanitation station containing about a dozen portable toilets and sinks that U.S. officials say are cleaned twice a day.

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Men sit on a bench with other fathers of young children.

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Men rest on bed pads in a holding pen.

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Bathroom stalls in the McAllen Central Processing Center.

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Recently detained migrants sit and await processing.

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A female minor rests her head on a bench.

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Migrants arrive by the busload to the McAllen processing center, where they can have crackers, chips, juice and other snacks while they wait. Agents provide migrants with wet wipes, which they can use to keep clean until they are allowed to shower. Migrants also get silver Mylar blankets while they sleep on the concrete floor. Younger migrants and unaccompanied children are offered Border Patrol-provided sweatpants, T-shirts and shoes.

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Sandwich crackers sit in a bin at the Texas facility.

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Mylar blankets, which are issued to migrants for warmth, in a bin at the processing center.

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Shoes for migrants sit in boxes.

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“Children are held on average about 26 hours in custody,” said Oscar Escamilla, acting deputy Border Patrol agent-in-charge, who led a brief tour through the center. There were fewer than 100 unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Protection custody at the time of the tour Monday — far from the peak a few months earlier, when more than 2,000 children were backed up in the immigration system and were crowded into the agency’s facilities, sometimes for weeks. Parents with children are held in enclosures separate from children who arrive at the southwest border alone and surrender to agents.

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An area used to entertain and care for young unaccompanied minors.

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Recently detained migrants await processing.

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A male minor rests under Mylar blankets.

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A child holds a milk carton inside the center.

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The number of people in custody fluctuates daily — and sometimes hourly — at the processing center as thousands of adults and children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala continue arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border despite the scorching summer weather. What happens after migrants are taken into custody varies: deportation, detention or release into the country with an ankle monitor to await immigration court processes. Telephones are available for migrants to contact lawyers, relatives or sponsors who can help with their next steps.

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A man who said he wants a shower sits in the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center.

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Telephones, which detained migrants can use to contact relatives and lawyers, are lined up on a table.

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Members of the media tour the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex., on Aug. 12.

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Male minors sit and wait inside the center.

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