To deal with the burgeoning number of undocumented migrant children in federal custody, the Trump administration in recent weeks has been awakening hundreds of kids in the middle of the night at homes and shelters across the country. Then, they are placed on buses and sent to a tent city in the desert in Texas, near the Mexican border, The New York Times reported.
According to the Times:
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.
The move is part of a “mass reshuffling” that has relocated more than 1,600 kids to the desert tent city so far, the Times said. The camp can hold about 3,800 kids after a recent expansion. While there, they can spend months waiting for the process to play out on their immigration statuses. According to experts, protracted custody can lead to anxiety, depression, violent outbursts, and escape attempts, the report said.
The number of undocumented migrant children in federal custody has skyrocketed in the last year, totaling about 13,000. That is a remarkable increase from May 2017, when the number was only 2,400.
These children either were among the 2,500 forcibly separated from their parents by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy or they crossed the border alone. Many are seeking asylum. Normally, the kids would be held in custody at shelters or foster homes until they can be placed with a sponsor while awaiting the outcome of their immigration process.
Part of the problem now is that the number of these sponsors—who usually are family members or friends—is dramatically dropping due to the threat by immigration authorities of detaining and deporting sponsors when they come forward to claim the children.
As the Times noted, in June officials announced that sponsors and other members of their household would have to submit fingerprints and be subjected to background checks. That information will be shared with immigration authorities.
According to CNN, federal immigration officials have arrested dozens of sponsors already. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told CNN that 70% of these arrests were for immigration violations. Last week, ICE official Matthew Albence testified to Congress that 80% of sponsors or adult household members of sponsors are undocumented. In other words, they have become a huge target for ICE, with undocumented kids as the bait.
“[W]e are continuing to pursue those individuals,” Albence said.
Meanwhile, sending kids to the desert in the middle of the night has been a tough process on both the kids and those trying to help them. Describing the scene at one shelter in the Midwest during such an event, the Times said:
Some staff members cried when they learned of the move, the shelter worker said, fearing what was in store for the children who had been in their care. Others tried to protest. But managers explained that tough choices had to be made to deal with the overflowing population.
Leah Chavla, a refugee advocate and attorney, told the newspaper: “This cannot be the right solution.”