Immigrant children are being held in a tent city in the West Texas desert where they eat and sleep under temporary structures with tarp-like ceilings.
While no reporters have been let inside the camp, called Tornillo, the Department of Health and Human Services released several photos of the enclosures, which were approved to house children just weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his new “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Some reporters also visited the area around the camp in Tornillo on Monday.
The images show multiple enclosures, complete with dozens of bunk beds cramped next to each other. Chain-link fences topped with barbed wire surround the tents — not far from that wall stood another, taller wall separating the U.S. and Mexico. Temperatures in the area can reach over 100 degrees, but the tents do have air conditioning.
DHS revealed Friday that the facility housed about 100 minors, but on Tuesday, the Texas Tribune reported about 200 living there. And Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd said that Tornillo plans to keep around 360 children, and that could increase that to 4,000 minors in the near future.
At the facility, migrant boys play soccer during the day and wait to be reunited with their families. About 20 percent of the minors living in the tent city were separated from their families, according to The Texas Tribune. In what appears to be a dining hall, dozens of long plastic tables spread out surrounded by metal chairs. Tornillo also has a medical facility.
Since the implementation of the “zero tolerance” policy — which requires that people caught trying to enter the country illegally be immediately arrested and detained without their children — the number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has increased by more than 20 percent. At one facility, children could be heard sobbing and crying out for their “mama” and “papa,” as border patrol agents joke about the “orchestra,” according to audio released by ProPublica.
The harsh policies have led detention centers to fill up fast — so fast, that officials decided to rely on these tent cities.
Hundreds of people — led by Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke and El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar — marched on Tornillo on Father’s Day to protest the separation of migrant children from their parents. During the march, which was live-streamed on Facebook, protesters chanted “families united” and “free our children now,” according to NPR.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has held immigrant kids in tent camps. Under the Obama Administration, thousands of unaccompanied minors were crossing the border, and in response, the government set up the tent cities. Defenders of Obama hold that policy was different than the cities today because they were experiencing a genuine crisis at the time, and most of the immigrant children crossed without families.
Cover image: Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration, are being housed in tents next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S. June 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)