HOUSTON (CN) — With government shelters for immigrant children running out of space, the Trump administration is considering installing tents at Texas military bases as part of its policy to dissuade Latin Americans from seeking asylum in the United States.
Fort Bliss, where the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday night, is an Army base used for missile tests that sprawls across 992,000 acres in the high desert near El Paso.
McClatchy News Service reported Tuesday that Department of Health and Human Services personnel will visit Fort Bliss, which could soon shelter 1,000 to 5,000 children in tents. HHS is also vetting Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, 150 miles southwest of Fort Worth
Due to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy of arresting and charging all immigrants caught in the country without papers, jailing them and separating them from their children, more than 10,000 children are being held at 100 HHS shelters, which are 95 percent full, according to McClatchy.
The government must release children from immigration jails without unnecessary delay, even when they are with their parents, under a 1997 settlement in Jenny Lisette Flores v. Edwin Meese, a lawsuit filed in 1985 on behalf of a class of unaccompanied minors fleeing torture and abuse in Central America.
Trump has blamed that settlement and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which bars the expedited deportation of minors, for tying his hands and forcing his administration to put children in shelters until a sponsor, typically a family member, is found who can take them in while their immigration case plays out.
More than 1,300 children, including infants, have been separated from their parents at the border since October 2017.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said during a congressional hearing last week that children are removed from their parents only when the parents enter the country illegally and are arrested. He said immigrant families who go to a port of entry and ask for asylum are not being separated.
But some asylum seekers have also had their children taken from them at ports of entry, according to multiple news reports. One young Honduran man recently committed suicide when his young son was taken from him.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said publicly that the arrests and separation of children are meant to deter other refuge-seekers from trying to enter the United States. Sessions further tightened the screws this week by declaring that spousal abuse and gang violence are unacceptable reasons to seek asylum, as the abusers are not state actors.
After dropping to a 40-year low in Trump’s first year in office, border arrests spiked to more than 50,000 in April and May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Proponents of the new policy say it’s needed to stop immigrants from skipping court and staying in the country illegally.
“Keeping these families together means that they will all be released within three weeks and likely will never be seen again,” the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform said in a statement Monday. “The adults can be detained for a longer period while their claims to enter the United States can be evaluated, but that requires that they be held apart from their minor children.”
Leon Fresco, an assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama, told McClatchy that it’s more expensive to separate parents and children and hold them in different facilities than it would be to keep them together, release them from custody and put ankle monitors on the parents to ensure they show up to court.
He said the Trump administration will likely have to ask Congress for more money to enforce its family separation policy.
A group of six Texas state lawmakers, all Democrats, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday, trying to talk her out of moving ahead with tent camps at military bases.
“The clear purpose of military bases is for armed services operations and housing of military personnel, not for housing immigrant children forcibly taken from their parents,” the letter states.