The Trump administration is delaying closure of a Texas “tent city” that houses migrant boys who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or were separated from their families under the president’s cruel “zero tolerance” policy, according to a CBS News report published early Saturday.
Located at the Tornillo Port of Entry south of El Paso, the facility was opened June 14 because of overcrowded shelters and was initially set to close a month later. However, with hundreds of children still separated from their parents—thanks to the administration’s immigration policies and prolonged failure to reunite families by a federal court’s July 26 deadline—its closure has been repeatedly delayed.
“All of them have places they could go, but for the federal government dragging their feet in returning requests for background checks.”
—Texas Rep. Diego Bernal
After the first delay, officials had planned to close down the facility this weekend, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—which contracted the nonprofit that runs the tent city—said Friday that now it won’t close until at least September.
On Friday, Texas lawmakers toured the facility—which currently houses about 170 children—with members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. Democratic state Reps. Ina Minjarez and Diego Bernal told the San Antonio Express-News that the shutdown delay is due to a backlog of background checks and fingerprints.
“All of them have places they could go, but for the federal government dragging their feet in returning requests for background checks,” said Bernal.
“Why are they not doing their due diligence to get these expedited, so that these kids can leave this facility and be with their family?” asked Minjarez.
A spokesperson for HHS told CBS:
HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is continuously monitoring bed capacity available to provide shelter for minors who arrive at the U.S. border unaccompanied and are referred to HHS for care by immigration officials, as well as the information received from interagency partners, to inform any future decisions or actions. …HHS will continue to assess the need for this temporary shelter at Tornillo Land Port of Entry (LPOE), Tornillo, TX, based on projected need for beds and current capacity of the program.
Pointing to an investigation published July 5, CBS also noted that “a loophole in federal policy allows the Tornillo facility and another massive temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, to escape the rigorous, often unannounced child welfare inspections that all other similar shelters operated by ORR are subjected to.”
Gina Hinojosa, another Democratic state representative who visited the facility on Friday, tweeted:
Tornillo tent city costing @ 500K/day & implemented because Trump’s Zero Tolerance/Child Separation policy flooded system. Only reason I can see to use tent city (instead of brick & mortar) is to use federal lands to avoid State childcare licensing requirements.
— Gina Hinojosa (@GinaForAustin) August 10, 2018