Trump Administration Weighs Tent Camps for Migrant Children

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“Cages that looked a lot like dog kennels.” That was Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley’s description of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility he visited in McAllen, Texas last week. (He was denied access to another facility in Brownsville, Texas, whose windows appeared to be blacked out.) Both facilities reportedly house migrant children who have been separated from their parents at the border. Now, according to a report by McClatchy, the Trump administration is pursuing the construction of tent cities near military sites across the state to “shelter the increasing number of unaccompanied [minors] being held in detention.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services will visit Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army base near El Paso, in the coming weeks to look at a parcel of land where the administration is considering building a tent city to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children,” reports Franco Ordoñez, citing officials in the Department of Health and Human Services and others familiar with the project.

HHS, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement, is responsible for 11,200 children without a parent or guardian at approximately 100 facilities, 95 percent of which are full to capacity. Ordoñez notes that the number of such children has increased 20 percent since Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson introduced a “zero tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes those who have entered or re-entered the country illegally while their asylum claims are being processed.

“Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families have been apprehended since 2014, when a surge of Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan mothers and children raced into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, fleeing violence and poverty,” Ordoñez writes. “The unaccompanied children are generally turned over to family or held in an HHS shelter, like a detention center or tent city. Now those who arrive with their parents are being separated from them and also sent to HHS shelters or sponsor families.”

McClatchy’s findings are the latest in a series of disturbing reports about the Trump administration’s escalating cruelty. Last week, The Washington Post reported that Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran asylum seeker, committed suicide in U.S. custody after losing his son at a Texas processing center. On Monday, Sessions announced that fleeing domestic and gang violence would no longer be grounds for political asylum, a decision that could imperil hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

Like Merkley, Rep. Pramila Jaypal, a Washington Democrat, recently visited a detention center where migrant parents had been separated from their children, this one just outside of Seattle. There, mothers told of being informed by border patrol agents that “their families would not exist anymore” and that they would “never see their children again.”

“Thirty to 40 percent of these women came with children who had been forcibly taken away from them,” Jaypal told The Nation’s Joan Walsh. “None got a chance to say goodbye to their children—they were forcibly taken away. … Some of them said they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room. The children ranged anywhere from [age 1] to teenagers.”

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