Tornillo, Texas is now home to 1,600 more migrant children after the U.S. government transferred kids out of government-contracted shelters and foster homes throughout the country, and into the ‘tent city’ this week.
The transfers follow a massive expansion of the Tornillo holding facility that was originally built to house 400 but will now accommodate 3,800. The location is feeling the stress of an exploding population after the number of immigrant children in U.S. custody has hit an all-time high of 12,800 with some estimates even higher.
A number of factors have contributed to the boom of children in custody. Many children are still in custody as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, despite a court order that ceased separations in June. The number of children who have crossed the border without family has also doubled in recent months, and the Trump administration now requires every adult living in a potential custodial home to be fingerprinted and pass a background check before the transfer of custody, further delaying the process. Many undocumented immigrants who came forward to sponsor immigrant children have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Of primary concern are the conditions in the ‘tent city’ which are intended as temporary housing for the children. It is a minimally regulated grouping of tents in a desert city in West Texas; it is meant to provide residents with the basics. Government-contracted shelters and foster homes, are regulated by state and/or federal governments and while living in them, children are required to attend school; the ‘tent city’ is unregulated, and education is not required, although children are given workbooks they can choose to complete if they so desire.
Children are also forced to sleep in bunks with 20 gender-separated children per tent and their access to legal services is limited while being detained in the tent city.
According to The New York Times, the facility will house primarily older children ages 13 to 17.
“It is common to use influx shelters as done on military bases in the past, and the intent is to use these temporary facilities only as long as needed,” said Evelyn Stauffer, spokesperson for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
Making matters a bit more sketchy, The New York Times reports that children from all over the country were woken up in the middle of the night and transferred under the shield of darkness.
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Rachel Lucio is a freelance writer in Austin, TX. She has been writing professionally since 1991, and has covered state, local and national government for more than a decade.