Chain-link fencing will be removed, and the warehouse will be redesigned to provide detained migrants with more humane conditions, The Washington Post reports.
Renovations will take at least 18 months and will include more recreation and play areas for children, in addition to more permanent kitchen, infirmary, and shower facilities.
Partitions will remain to separate demographic groups such as mothers with infants from adolescents. Instead of chain-link, the dividers will be made of clear plastic.
Capacity will be reduced from 1,500 people to 1,100.
“The new design will allow for updated accommodations, which will greatly improve the operating efficiency of the centre as well as the welfare of individuals being processed,” said Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector.
The McAllen facility was originally opened in 2014 during the Obama administration when a surge of Central American migrant families began arriving in South Texas.
As existing facilities became dangerously overcrowded, CBP took possession of the large air-conditioned warehouse, converting it into a processing centre.
The use of inexpensive chain-link fencing to divide up the huge space became a symbol of the dehumanising treatment of migrants once they made it into the US.
When large numbers of migrants began crossing the border in 2018, the Trump administration instituted a zero tolerance policy, separating thousands of children from their parents.
After TV footage emerged of the chain-link fences, there was an immediate outcry with the phrase “kids in cages” becoming a rallying cry for opponents of the administration’s hardline stance on illegal immigration.
Those taken into custody in the Rio Grande Valley were usually taken to the warehouse to have their personal and biometric data recorded by CBP.
They would often spend several days at the facility sleeping on mats under foil blankets in an otherwise open space.
Authorities would then determine if they would be returned to Mexico, transferred to longer-term detention facilities, or released into the US.
Renovation of the McAllen warehouse will temporarily leave CBP without a large-volume facility to process those that cross the border illegally.
A new surge of migrants is expected in the spring as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and a string of hurricanes leading to flooding and crop damage in Central America, will likely lead to a wave of refugees.