If a single word could describe the fenced-in holding pens for undocumented immigrants at processing facilities, some might choose “cages.” Ex-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen liked to call them “sub parts.” Her replacement, Kevin McAleenan, dubbed them “the chain-link.” Regardless of the nomenclature, acting DHS secretary McAleenan told Congress Tuesday that the controversial cells are on their way out at the largest immigration processing center in the U.S.
“We are gonna take out the chain-link,” McAleenan said of the McAllen, Texas, processing center in his first congressional hearing before the House Appropriations Committee. “We’re going to have partitions that are more appropriate in terms of appearance as we protect families in our custody.”
McAleenan took over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees Customs and Border Protection (CBP), three weeks ago after Nielsen abruptly resigned following increasing disagreements with President Trump’s immigration agenda.
The McAllen facility, known as “Ursula,” was the subject of nationwide outrage last year when it became a primary holding center for undocumented children separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Pictures of the facility provided by CBP showed children sleeping on the floor, surrounded by chain-link fencing, in the repurposed, massive warehouse. Several politicians and media organizations described those holding pens as “cages.” Migrants also reportedly dubbed the facility the “dog kennel.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, which primarily concerned the DHS budget, appropriations chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, wanted to know how conditions might improve at the facility, although she didn’t specifically reference the cages. The U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented surge of migrant families coming across the southern border, and some detention centers are at capacity (although others are also being emptied).
For that reason, McAleenan said he was seeking an increase in federal funding to pay for more migrant processing facilities like the one in McAllen. He also requested increased detention capacity and upgraded technology.
Cover image: Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan testifies during the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing on the FY2020 for the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)