A record nearly 13,000 migrant children are currently detained in shelters across the United States. But while most of them have been housed in private shelters or foster homes to date, hundreds are now being shuttled to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas.
Around 1,600 children from across the country have been moved in recent weeks, loaded onto buses in the middle of the night that are headed toward Tornillo, reports The New York Times. They are reportedly moved in the middle of the night, with minimal warning, to offset the likelihood that they will try to escape.
The move is reportedly intended to make room for additional children that are being detained, with the older ones who are expected to be released sooner being sent to the tent camp. But unlike in the other facilities, in Tornillo, the children do not receive the same care or access to facilities.
The camp in Tornillo is not licensed, nor is it monitored by state child welfare authorities. The children are separated into groups of 20 by gender and sleep in bunk beds, according to The Times. There is no access to formal schooling; children are given workbooks “that they have no obligation to complete.” And whereas in their previous shelters the children had legal representatives assigned to their individual cases, they now face limited legal services.
The camp originally opened at the end of June, with the intention of hosting just 400 children. But by last month the camp has expanded to house 3,800 children and is due to stay open at least through the end of the year. The children being sent to Tornillo are largely those who are expected to be placed with sponsors sooner, but in reality, it is likely that they will remain in the camp for months.
Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told The Times that “the intent is to use these temporary facilities only as long as needed.” Yet the amount of time children are being held has ballooned, from an average of 34 days last year to 59.
Immigration advocates fear that the lengthy stays could have lasting effects on the emotional and mental health of the children.