Following the implementation of the zero tolerance immigration policy, the Trump administration is now considering the option to build “tent cities” at military posts located in Texas in order to house the unaccompanied migrant children currently under their care.
The new immigration policy, formally rolled out in early May, charges all individuals who cannot present proof of authorization upon crossing the border with federal misdemeanor, leaving them to stay in federal prison while waiting for a court trial. Since adults are not allowed to keep their children with them in federal prison, migrant children accompanied by prosecuted adults are presently held in detention under the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Because of this controversial policy, cases of family separation has skyrocketed. To date, the number of children now held in detention has increased by 20 percent.
Existing shelters maintained by the HHS are said to now be 95 percent full, holding 10,200 migrant children. In response to this overcapacity, the administration plans to build temporary shelters in Fort Bliss, an army base located near El Paso, where the children will be transferred. The HSS will visit the base in the next weeks to find an area suitable to shelter around 1,000 to 5,000 unaccompanied minors.
The department is also considering other bases such as the Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and the Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo for the venue of the tent cities to be built.
The HHS believes that, by implementing this method, they will protect not only the border but also the minors from being potentially exploited. “The lack of parental protection, and the hazardous journey they take, make unaccompanied alien children vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation and abuse,” an HHS official noted in report by McClatchy.
The number of immigrants rose beginning in 2014 as families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras seeked refuge in Rio Grande Valley, Texas to escape violence and poverty from their homelands.
However, federal defenders note that some Border Patrol officers are not being fully honest with the families about the reason for separating them from one another, and how long this will take.
As quoted by Vox, Rep. Pramila Jayapal noted in a press release that women being held in a federal prison she visited had encountered threats from Border Patrol agents, saying that “their families would not exist anymore and that they would never see their children again.”
Furthermore, reports that Border Patrol agents have abused migrant minors verbally, physically, and sexually were released by the American Civil Liberties Union in May.
Several lawsuits against the new policy are currently being processed. Human rights advocates also questioned the administration’s main motivations for this aggressive detention method, saying that the children are being used as “pawns to score political points.”
A court order referred to as the ‘Flores settlement’ states that unaccompanied children should either be sent to close relatives as urgent as possible, or kept under the custody of the HSS. Vox noted that a high percentage of children who entered the border of US with and without parents also have relatives or family friends inside the US which they may be sent to, making the entire plan to keep most children in detention all the more baffling.
Nevertheless, the Flores settlement also mandates that the government, in the event that they must keep the children under their care, should ensure to keep them in the “least restrictive” form of custody. Any proof that this will be violated in any way should they ever push through with building tent cities will be a grave offense.
Photo: Charles Edward Miller via Flickr