Migrant kids are being moved under cover of darkness to travel from their shelters to a tent city in Texas
The New York Times is reporting that hundreds of migrant kids being housed all over the country have been woken from their sleep in the middle of the night to head to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas. The move has taken place over the last several weeks as the United States government struggles to find room for the more than 13,000 detained migrant children — the largest population ever.
The kids were roused from sleep and loaded onto buses with their meager belongings and some snacks to travel to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas. Before being sent to live in these bare accommodations, most undocumented kids were being cared for in shelters or foster homes. They were able to attend school and got regular visits with legal reps assigned to their immigration cases.
In Tornillo, it’s a whole different story. The kids are sleeping in groups of 20, all of the same gender, in rows of bunks. They no longer go to school, but are given workbooks they don’t even have to finish. They also don’t have the same access to their legal reps that they did before.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for caring for the kids, the average length of time a migrant child spends in custody has doubled since this time last year — from 34 days to 59.
So far, more than 1,600 kids have been relocated to the Tornillo tent city to try to manage the huge shelter populations of detained migrant children, which have been near 90 percent of capacity since May 2018. The kids are being moved around in an effort to find space for everyone, and there’s no signs of it stopping any time soon.
The tent city, which first opened in June for 30 days, at which time it could house 400 kids, can now fit 3,800 after an expansion last month. It’s now expected to be in use until the end of the year.
Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, says this arrangement is not unheard of. “It is common to use influx shelters as done on military bases in the past, and the intent is to use these temporary facilities only as long as needed.” Stauffer continues to defend her agency’s work saying, “The number of families and unaccompanied alien children apprehended are a symptom of the larger problem, namely a broken immigration system. 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.”
There are (obviously) concerns among those who advocate for migrant kids as the tent city is nothing like the shelters, which are monitored by state child welfare authorities that oversee the children’s care and ensure that safety and education requirements are being met. But the tent city, totally unregulated aside from supervision by the Department of Health and Human Services, has no required schooling.
Shelter workers who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity report that the middle-of-the-night moves are now a standard practice for relocating the kids to Tornillo. They say it’s because doing it at night lessens escape attempts — the kids are given little warning of the move in advance for the same reason.
The Times reports that some shelter staff cried or even protested when they found out about the children being moved to the tent city because they were afraid of what they might face. The shelter management said it had to happen in order to accommodate the increased numbers of detained migrant kids in need of housing.
Most of the kids being moved to the tent city are ages 13-17 and are being sent there because they’re close to being released to a sponsor. That means they will spend less time at the temporary facility than a child recently apprehended at the border. Leah Chavla, a lawyer with the Women’s Refugee Commission, disagrees that the move won’t have lasting effects. “Obviously we have concerns about kids falling through the cracks, not getting sufficient attention if they need attention, not getting the emotional or mental health care that they need.”
Advocates are deeply concerned about kids who are struggling being more likely to be overlooked at the tent city, simply because of its much larger size. The chances of a child suffering emotionally and mentally are likely higher because of the abrupt move, possibly not having time to say goodbye to the shelter staff or friends they’ve made while in detention.
America, we have frightened kids being moved under cover of darkness to live in tents. They’re being ripped from the only place they’ve known for several weeks, in sleepy confusion, to stay in a place with no formal schooling and even less supervision. They’re still without their families and people who love them. History will not be kind to those who supported this disgusting idea — anyone with a heart would feel nothing but shame and rage at the thought of children being traumatized and made to live in tents with no promise of a better life any time soon.