TORNILLO, Texas — For the past seven months, the federal government has operated a massive "tent city" on the edge of Tornillo, a border town near El Paso, to house unaccompanied minors who made unauthorized crossings into the U.S.
Officially, it’s a youth shelter. Unofficially, it’s a prison for kids. But whatever you call the facility, its operations have been highly secretive. The federal government has released so little information about what goes on inside Tornillo that the best insight into the camp is a guy who's been standing watching outside its gates.
Josh Rubin is that guy. The 66-year-old New Yorker moved to Texas to protest and publicize what was happening at Tornillo. After spending three months there, he's finally going home.
"There's a reason for being out here in the middle of nowhere. They don't want us to see. They didn't want us to see what we saw," Rubin told VICE News. "And now they're closing it down." The Department of Health and Human Services operates the shelter in conjunction with a private contractor, BCFS. In late December — weeks after it was revealed that BCFS had been neglecting to run required fingerprint checks on workers — HHS announced that it would not be renewing the Tornillo contract.
Now, the camp is starting to shut down. VICE News learned that Tornillo was housing just 850 children as of Tuesday, down from over 2,800 at its height last month.
This segment originally aired January 8, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.