According to the New York Times, these children were once held by federal immigration authorities in private foster homes or shelters, where they slept two to three to a room comfortably. They were able to go to school formally.
Now, they are being shipped to a tent city in the middle of the desert in South Texas, where they won’t have schooling or full access to lawyers. They will be sleeping in groups of 20, separated by gender, in bunks.
The camp in Tornillo, which is considered a “pop-up city,” was originally opened with a maximum capacity of 400. It recently expanded to house 3,800.
A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services (H.H.S.), Evelyn Stauffer, said that it’s common to use these types of shelters on military bases, but that the need for this system points fingers to the problem with the U.S. immigration system. And she’s right: The number of undocumented migrant children in federal custody has really skyrocketed this year, totaling 13,000. Last May, the number was only 2,400.
“The number of families and unaccompanied alien children apprehended are a symptom of the larger problem, namely a broken immigration system,” Stauffer said. “Their ages and the hazardous journey they take make unaccompanied alien children vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation and abuse. That is why H.H.S. joins the president in calling on Congress to reform this broken system.”
According to several shelter workers who spoke to the Times, the children are moved late at night because they will be less likely to run away and escape. For the same reason, children are given less than a two-hour notice that they are being moved.
While the move is said to be temporary, advocates are saying there is a possibility that many of these children could be stuck in this tent city for months.
One main concern that advocates of these children currently have is depression and anxiety leading to violent outbursts. These concerns are heightened at a facility like this one, where signs of depression are likely to be overlooked due to the size of the facility and the number of children there.
Clearly, sending these kids to the desert has an effect on the children, but it also affects those trying to help them as well. The Times shared that a lot of staff members cried when they learned about the move, “fearing what was in store for the children who had been in their care.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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