The national shame that is America’s treatment of undocumented children continues to devolve into a literal nightmare. The U.S. government is currently responsible for some 13,000 migrant children, five times the number in custody as recently as last year, which now amounts to the largest population of immigrant minors in custody ever. As the time spent in detention as increased—from 34 to 59 days—the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the children’s care, has struggled to house the growing number of unaccompanied minors, most of whom share rooms of two or three in private foster homes or shelters, where they receive schooling as their cases slowly work their way through the system.
That, however, is changing and the New York Times paints a devastating picture of hundreds of children getting rounded up each week, in the middle of the night in order to avoid attempts to escape, and transported to a mass shelter in South Texas. So far 1,600 have been shipped to Texas from across the country, according to the Times, leaving behind a system of care and required schooling and care licensed and monitored by state child welfare authorities for a largely unregulated tent city governed by HHS guidelines that don’t require or provide schooling.
In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in South Texas… [I]n the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.
The camp in Tornillo operates like a small, pop-up city, about 35 miles southeast of El Paso on the Mexico border, complete with portable toilets. Air-conditioned tents that vary in size are used for housing, recreation and medical care. Originally opened in June for 30 days with a capacity of 400, it expanded in September to be able to house 3,800, and is now expected to remain open at least through the end of the year.
“The move to Texas is meant to be temporary. Rather than send new arrivals there, the government is sending children who are likely to be released sooner, and will spend less time there—mainly older children, ages 13 to 17, who are considered close to being placed with sponsors,” according to the Times. “Still, because sponsorship placements are often protracted, immigrant advocates said there was a possibility that many of the children could be living in the tent city for months.”