Hours after the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the administration was creating temporary shelters to detain migrant children who have been forcibly separated from their parents, the first such facility, at the Tornillo Port of Entry in Texas, is already detaining about 100 children, Texas State Rep. Mary González tells Jezebel.
González, a Democrat whose district includes Tornillo, said that, as of Friday morning, the facility housed 98 children and is expected to house about 200 more by the end of the day. González cited a personal contact inside the federal government as the source of this information, but declined to name them. We could not independently verify this number and emails sent to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting comment on the number of children at the facility were not immediately returned. The Texas Tribune reports that 360 children would be expected within the next several days, and more may arrive after that.
The tent encampment lies at the outskirts of El Paso County in a desert landscape that routinely reaches temperatures above 100 degrees in the summer. While HHS has said the tents will be air-conditioned, local politicians have condemned the camps as inhumane. “This week we’re experiencing 100- to 105-degree weather,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, a Democrat from El Paso, told the El Paso Times. “You are talking about placing children in tents in the desert regions of West Texas? It is totally inhumane and it is outrageous. It should be condemned by anyone who has a moral sense of responsibility.”
Citing figures from the Department of Homeland Security, the AP reported that the administration has already separated 2,000 children from their families in the past six weeks, a consequence of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that involves prosecuting 100 percent of adults crossing the border without documentation and, if they are a parent or guardian, separating them from their children. “This situation is completely created by the administration, because this all happened due to two things: zero-tolerance policy and the family separation policy,” González said. She described the policies as “child torture.”
When we spoke on the phone on Friday morning, her office was unaware of who would be staying at the facility or when they would be arriving. She texted less than an hour later to say that, as of 11:18 a.m. local time, the facility held 98 children, according to her source.
González’s office is working with the Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Refugee Resettlement to learn more information about the encampment, but calls the lack of transparency “a really intentional” strategy to resist oversight and deters people from fighting the administration’s agenda.
The facility in Tornillo will be the site of the first temporary shelter constructed for children who have been separated from their parents after entering the country without authorization. The Texas Tribune reports that HHS is looking to build similar shelters in Fort Bliss in El Paso, Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, and Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene.
Update 6/15, 4:25 p.m.: Kenneth J. Wolfe, Deputy Director of the Office of Communications for the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, told Jezebel via email:
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with the support of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has selected Tornillo Land Port of Entry as a temporary shelter location for unaccompanied alien children cared for by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. HHS will continue to keep local and congressional officials informed during this selection process.
Wolfe did not confirm the number of children currently detained at the Tornillo facility, writing, “On your specific data question, the initial capacity, for over the next few days at Tornillo, is 360 minors in the unaccompanied alien children program.”