McALLEN — Metal benches, green sleeping pads and chain-link fence enclosures awaited kids picked up by Border Patrol at the Rio Grande Valley’s first central processing center for unaccompanied immigrant children.

Border Patrol gave members of the media a tour Thursday of the South McAllen warehouse at 3700 W. Ursula Ave., where the new center is located, before they planned to begin bringing children there Friday.

The federal government was able to lease the vacant building quickly and spent just weeks retrofitting it to hold up to 1,000 children, said Kevin Oaks, the chief patrol agent for Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector.

Inside, chain-link fence provides the walls to create four pods, each including a central area, six smaller enclosures with benches and a cell of portable toilets. Brightly painted platforms in the center of each pod allow staff to watch over the kids, who will be separated by age between the smaller enclosures, said Roel Rodriguez, who will be running the center.

During a news conference, Oaks praised what he characterized as a multi-agency effort to get the center opened quickly.

The facility, just blocks away from McAllen’s Border Patrol station, will provide a single place for kids to be processed and initially housed, away from the individual stations and farther-away processing. Oaks said they hoped to have kids there no longer than three days before they are transported to longer term HHS shelters.

The number of kids in local Border Patrol custody has declined somewhat, from a high of 1,200 in recent weeks to about 200 right now. Agents arrested 80 unaccompanied children Wednesday, Oaks said.

He said the center was set to replace one in Nogales, where Border Patrol had been flying unaccompanied minors caught in the Valley.

“They’re starting to not put any more children there because this is going to be the primary, sort of, second stage from when we arrest them and then our facilities and then they go here,” he said. “As I understand it, Nogales is probably going to wind down here within the next day to week.”

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Elizabeth Findell covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Donna, Weslaco, Mercedes, Progreso and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at efindell@themonitor.com, (956) 683-4428 or on Twitter at @efindell.

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