The Trump administration has proposed a site for housing unaccompanied migrant children that could expose those children to multiple toxic chemicals, heavy metals and contaminated groundwater, according to a nonprofit environmental law organization’s report.
As part of the Trump administration’s plan to jail undocumented immigrants on military bases, the site at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, is slated to hold up to 7,5000 unaccompanied children. Attorneys with Earthjustice, the nation’s largest nonprofit environmental law organization, say that the proposed location’s status as a former landfill and Superfund site should preclude it from ever being used for housing—particularly for children, who are especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants.
“Public records show the migrant children’s housing site proposed for Goodfellow will be built atop a former landfill, in an area riddled with lead, benzene and other chemicals particularly hazardous to children,” said Lisa Evans, Earthjustice attorney. “This is outrageous.”
The report is put together with documents generated by the U.S. Air Force during the Superfund cleanup process and inspections and finds that Goodfellow still poses risks related to arsenic, benzene, lead, and PFAS — contaminants “found to affect neurodevelopment and increase risk of learning delays and autism.”
Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, have been detected at Goodfellow as well, and have been found to cause damage to human nervous systems, kidneys, and liver—risks that are compounded when the person exposed to the compounds is a child.
The Daily Beast said the site’s contamination are due in large part to its prior use as a landfill, which has since been covered but never capped. An area previously used as a firing-range — its soil contaminated with lead — “sits directly beneath land the Defense Department hopes to use for detainee housing.”
“The Trump administration clearly cannot be trusted with the health and safety of vulnerable migrant children,” said Laura M. Esquivel, director of National Advocacy for Hispanic Federation. “Make no mistake; if plans go forward for these centers, the Trump administration is responsible for yet another cruel, misguided, and intentional action that will compound the irreparable damage to the physical and mental well-being of thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents at the border.”
Esquivel is a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice last August that seeks to compel the government to turn over records relating to the construction of detention facilities on U.S. military bases, including any documents identifying all hazardous waste sites that could harm detainees. Evans said that the suit, filed after the Department of Defense declined to release the documents in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, is necessary to accurately determine the potential risk to migrant children.
“We urge the government to immediately turn over all documents related to this immoral plan so the public can get to the bottom of this,” Evans said.