In the Middle of the Night: Children Taken to Tent City in Texas

HHS tent city Tornillo

The children were awakened in the middle of the night, in shelters across the country. They were ordered to put their possessions in backpacks and then loaded on buses for the trek to a Texas tent city immigration jail. Sometimes the workers sending them away cried, but there was no recourse. The orders came from higher up: the children had to be moved to make room for other immigrant children, and they had to be moved in the middle of the night to avoid “disturbances” or attempts to run away. That is the latest in the continuing saga of the youngest undocumented immigrants.

“Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases.

“But in 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.”

Now that the family separation policy has officially ended, children are being held in detention together with their parents. Many of the separated children who have been reunified with their parents remain in immigration detention together with their parents. Some parents have written accounts of their experience for lawyers pleading their cases and for the news media.

“The women say they were treated like dogs and told that their children would be given up for adoption. They lied awake at night, wondering if their kids were safe.

“But even after being reunited with their children, they say their nightmare has not ended.

“Their anguish is conveyed in a collection of letters written from one of the few immigrant family detention centers in the country, where some moms and children who were separated at the border this summer are now being held together while they await their fate.”

U.S. citizen children who arrive at the border with a parent seeking asylum are still being separated from their parents. Because they are U.S. citizens, they go into the foster care system, rather than immigration detention. Al Otro Lado attorney Erika Pinheiro says one in 20 asylum-seeking families has a U.S. citizen child.

“She said family separations that involve U.S.-citizen children are “worse” than separations that involve only foreign nationals. Unlike foreign national minors who go into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, U.S.-citizen children go into foster care unless Child Welfare Services can find them relatives in the U.S. who can take them in. If the child is put up for adoption, a biological parent could permanently lose custody of the child.”

All of this detention costs huge amounts of money. ICE chronically overspends its budget, and custody operations costs $3 billion this year, up from $1.77 billion in 2010. The Department of Homeland Security has transferred money from the Coast Guard and FEMA to cover immigration enforcement. The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for costs of placing undocumented children, has transferred $250 million from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute to help cover increased costs.

Lest we forget—the court-ordered deadline for reunification of separated children was 66 days ago, and the government has still not reunified all of the children with their parents. More than 130 children remain in government custody.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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