Border Crossers Sent to 'the Freezers'

"The moment Border Patrol agents swooped in on Claudia and her husband, Marvin, as they tried to sneak across the Rio Grande, the 31-year-old mother of two almost felt relief.  It had been an arduous 18-day journey from their native El Salvador, which they had fled for fear of their lives at the hands – and machetes – of a vicious gang, she said in a recent interview.  But she soon faced a new, unexpected ordeal as she quickly was separated from her husband and locked away with her preteen son and infant girl in cold cells with an ominous name.  “Then they took us,” Claudia said, “to the famous hieleras.”  Las hieleras, or “the freezers,” is how immigrants and some Border Patrol agents refer to the chilly holding cells at many stations along the U.S.-Mexico border.  The facilities are used to house recently captured border crossers until they can be transferred to a long-term Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility, returned to their native country or released until their immigration hearing.  According to interviews and court documents, many immigrants have been held for days in rooms kept at temperatures so low that men, women and children have developed illnesses associated with the cold, lack of sleep, overcrowding, and inadequate food, water and toilet facilities." - Rachael Bael, Andrew Decker; produced in collaboration with Univision and Fronteras.