U.S. Could Build Tent Facility For Asylum Seekers in Flood Plain At The Border

Officials from the Texas border city of Laredo recently went to Washington, D.C., to request four different federal agencies not build a tent facility for asylum seekers near Bridge 2 in town.

Laredo representatives told the federal agents the proposed tent facility site next to the Rio Grande was in a flood plain, and they presented a cheaper, more viable option, according to the Laredo Morning Times.

The multi-million dollar tent facility is designed as a place where asylum seekers can face an asylum judge through video conferencing for their hearing. Most of these asylums seekers have been awaiting their hearing while across the river in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The Laredo facility will be for those seeking asylum at the Texas border from Del Rio to Roma.

The tent is meant for hearings only, and no migrants are expected to be housed there.

Laredo officials presented an option of using a city office called El Portal, which is also near the Rio Grande, for the video conferencing with asylum judges. The city officials, who met this week with members of the Department of Homeland Security, Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Department of Justice and General Services Administration, said their building would be more cost-effective for the federal government.

The Laredo Morning Times report states the federal government probably already has too much invested in the tent facility to pull the plug on it now.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said the city made a generous offer, but could not elaborate as negotiations could still happen. The mayor said not only would it save the federal government money, it would also save them the embarrassment should the river flood the facility.

The federal government is on a tight deadline to complete the project, yet Saenz said the city could have El Portal ready by the same deadline. The federal agencies said the chance of it moving to the city building are doubtful, but that they would take the proposal up their chain of command.

"I can say I was disappointed, the whole group was," said Saenz, recalling the officials in Washington seemed genuine in their response. "But it was not very promising as far as accepting El Portal as the alternative."

Earlier this month, the Laredo City Council opposed the federal government constructing a tent facility near Bridge 2 because it would "taint the image" of the city, and perhaps "affect the downtown community."

"This is not only going to taint the image of Laredo as we welcome people with the tent at our bridge, but (is) also probably going to affect the downtown community and the image we're going to put out there, and even more so our local economy that's stimulated by the Mexican merchant," Laredo Council Member Alberto Torres said in the Laredo Morning Times.

Laredo has four international bridges where commercial and non-commercial traffic cross the Rio Grande, connecting Texas to Mexico. Bridge 2, also known as the Juarez-Lincoln International bridge, is for non-commercial use only.

International Bridge in Laredo
The Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge is also known as Bridge 2 in Laredo, Texas. This screenshot from July 20, 2019, shows traffic from the Mexico side of the bridge using the non-commercial bridge to enter the United States. Photo via screenshot from City of Laredo, Texas