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The Texas "tent city" housing thousands of migrant kids is closing

The contractor running the shelter said all the children housed there should be heading to a parent or sponsor living within the U.S. by Jan. 15.

by Carter Sherman
Dec 26 2018, 4:59pm

The Texas tent city built in June to house migrant children is set to close in the coming weeks, according to officials who work for the contractor that runs the shelter.

The contract between the Trump administration and BCFS, which operates the shelter in Tornillo, Texas, is set to expire Dec. 31, a BCFS official told the New York Times. By Jan. 15, the official said, all 2,500 children housed in the shelter should be heading to a parent or sponsor living within the United States. Until then, BCFS’s contract will be renewed daily.

Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democratic congressman who fell short in his bid for a Senate seat earlier this year, said Sunday that the CEO of BCFS had told him that the shelter would no longer accept children.

“He has more than 300 children who are ready to go,” O’Rourke told a crowd gathered outside the shelter to sing Christmas carols. “He said his only limitation right now is finding flights during the Christmas season.”

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the shelter, told VICE News in an email that there were no updates on its contract with the Tornillo shelter.

The shelter opened in June, at the height of the furor over the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which resulted in more than 2,500 migrant children being separated from their parents. At the time, the Tornillo shelter was meant to house just 450 children, NBC reported, but it quickly expanded, requiring more staff. Last month, VICE News reported that over 2,000 staffers at Tornillo had not undergone FBI-mandated fingerprint background checks, which are explicitly required under HHS guidance in order to ensure the safety of children under the department’s care.

However, also in June, the Trump administration started requiring that all adults living in a household that wanted to take in a migrant child had to undergo fingerprinting. That requirement dramatically slowed the process of uniting migrant children with guardians or parents. Last week, the New York Times reported, the Trump administration agreed to call off the fingerprinting. Rather, only the adult named as the child’s sponsor will be fingerprinted.

According to O’Rourke, operating the Tornillo tent city has cost American taxpayers about $144 million.

Cover: In this Dec. 13, 2018, photo, teen migrants walk in line inside the Tornillo detention camp in Tornillo, Texas. A relentless stream of U.S. policy shifts in 2018 has amounted to one of the boldest attacks on all types of immigration that the country has ever seen. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

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