It wasn’t too long ago when a Texas town just southeast of El Paso was making national headlines. Tornillo became infamous for the temporary child detention facility set up as part of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy; it housed immigrant children separated from their families.
Now, less than three months after the policy ended, Tornillo’s tent city is in the headlines again. Texas Monthly journalist Bob Moore says the facility is expanding because there are still many kids who haven’t been reconnected with families or sponsors in the U.S. Some are kids who were caught up in the zero-tolerance policy, while others from Central America just recently arrived unaccompanied in the U.S.
“Significant policy changes by the Trump administration … makes it much, much more difficult to place those children with family members in the United States,” Moore says. “As a result, you had this backlog of children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter program.”
He says that office is now responsible for placing almost 13,000 children, which is higher than the number it dealt with under the family separation policy. That’s because there’s now more restrictions on how kids are placed.
“Now, anybody wanting to sponsor one of these children has to agree to submit their fingerprints and the fingerprints of any adult in their household to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement,” Moore says.
The problem is that some of these families have undocumented people living in the household, and the policy deters them from being sponsors.
“As a result, we’ve seen a 30 percent decline in the number of placements of kids with their families so far this year, even though we’ve seen a slight increase in the number of kids coming into the system,” Moore says.
Moore says that’s driving the continued use of temporary tent shelters like Tornillo.
“The contract was supposed to have lapsed this Thursday … instead the administration is tripling the size from 1,200 beds to 3,800 beds, and extending the contract through the end of the year,” Moore says.
Written by Caroline Covington.