The Trump administration intends to expand the “tent city” constructed in Texas last year to accommodate migrant children who are in the United States without their parents, according to NPR.
Opened in June outside the small town of Tornillo, the facility initially housed 400 teenage boys; however, the need to house significantly more children has led the administration to expand the encampment to 3,800 beds, which will make it the government’s largest facility for housing unaccompanied children.
Reporters were granted access to the interior of the tent city on Friday, though no cameras or recordings were permitted.
> The shelter is spread out in an "L" like shape with two segregated wings for boys and girls. Music wafted from an enclosed dining hall and shelter staff darted about in four-wheeled utility vehicles. It's run like a mini city with its own ambulances, firefighters, urgent care clinic and sanitation crew. At both ends are soccer fields with artificial turf. Friday's lunch menu included red tamales, refried beans and rice.
The government’s need for more shelters is not driven by an influx of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border, NPR reported; rather, the need is the result of children staying in federal custody for longer periods of time.
> Migrant children are currently staying at shelters for an average of 59 days, according to data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. That's twice as long as last year's average, and is straining capacity at roughly 100 federally funded shelters nationwide.
> Mark Greenberg worked in the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services. He helped oversee the migrant child program.
> "We now have the largest number of children in shelter in the history of the program," he said. "But it's not because arrivals are at a historic high, it's because it is taking much longer for children to be released from the shelter system."
Greenberg said the fact that HHS is sharing sponsor information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement has led some family members of detained children nervous about coming forward to claim them.
So far, ICE has arrested at least 40 undocumented sponsors using the information provided by HHS according to NPR.
Department spokesman Mark Weber disagreed that sponsors’ fears over being arrested are behind the lengthier stays of migrant children, pinning the issue on HHS’s need to “balance speed with safety.”
> "We don't want to place a child in a home where there's a potential threat," he said.
> Weber also blamed the delays on the influx of children crossing the border. But while the number of unaccompanied minors is slightly up from last year, it's significantly below the record high set in 2014.