The Trump Administration Is Going to Build a Tent City at the Border for Migrant Children

“This is not what America stands for.”

A member of a Central American migrant caravan, holding a child, looks through the border fence.Hans-Maximo Musielik/AP

The Trump administration will build a tent city near the US-Mexico border in Texas to house hundreds of migrant children, including those separated from their parents.

Approximately 450 kids will be held in temporary shelters at Tornillo Land Point of Entry, a border crossing point near El Paso, NBC reported Wednesday. According to the Washington Post, temporary shelters at Tornillo were last used to house migrant children and families in 2016. The camp will have recreation areas and educational programming, along with air conditioning. 

Eleanor Acer, director of refugee protection at the nonprofit Human Rights First, called the decision to hold children at Tornillo “despicable.” “Many of these children have been brought to this country to escape unspeakable violence, and rather than offer them protection this administration is ripping them away from the only family they’ve ever known, prosecuting their parents, and holding them in inhumane conditions,” Acer said. “This is not what America stands for.”

Since April, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to criminally charge every unauthorized border crosser under a new “zero-tolerance” policy—a process that involves taking children away from parents facing federal charges—the government has separated thousands of children and placed them in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. ORR’s 100 or so shelters, which already housed thousands of so-called unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without their parents, soon neared capacity. On Tuesday, McClatchy reported that as HHS sought additional space, the department was considering erecting tent cities for between 1,000 and 5,000 children on military sites, including Fort Bliss near El Paso, Abilene’s Dyess Air Force Base, and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo.

The family separation policy has drawn rebukes from church leaders and lawmakers, including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Congressional Republicans are currently considering a draft bill that would end the practice, the Washington Post reports

On Wednesday, NBC reported on the jail-like conditions inside an existing ORR shelter for 1,500 boys, noting that the children were allowed outside for just two hours a day and that the shelter was already overcrowded, with five boys packed into each room built for four. That shelter, a converted Wal-Mart operated by nonprofit Southwest Key, was a licensed child care facility with trained staff. But Southwest Key’s president told reporter Jacob Soboroff that new tent cities on federal property—including, perhaps, Tornillo—may not be required to have a license.