The Trump administration is moving forward with tent cities to hold migrant children, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson stated Thursday.
“[HHS], with the support of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has selected Tornillo Land Port of Entry as a temporary shelter location for unaccompanied alien children cared for by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. “…HHS is legally required to provide care and shelter for all unaccompanied alien children referred by DHS, and works in close coordination with DHS on the security and safety of the children and community.”
The spokesperson added that HHS would “continue to keep local and congressional officials informed” during the development process.
The shelter will have 450 beds, and the children will sleep in tents. NBC reporters Jacob Soboroff, Courtney Kube and Julia Ainsley first confirmed the official decision after McClatchy reported Tuesday that HHS was considering the plan. The first tent city is going to be erected at Tornillo Land Port of Entry near El Paso. The average temperature in the area this summer will hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and could reach nearly 110 degrees.
Holding children at Army bases is not unprecedented. The Washington Post reported last month that the administration was preparing to do so, and the Obama administration temporarily held migrant children at Army bases in tent cities in several states in 2014 after an influx of immigrants arrived in the U.S., but, as the NBC report notes, this time, the government has created the problem for itself.
The tent cities will be used to house migrant children as other detention centers near capacity. According to McClatchy, HHS shelters are now reportedly more than 95 percent full and hold more than 10,000 immigrant children, and some 500 children have been reportedly been detained last month alone due to the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant parents from their children.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, echoing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, defended the policy at Thursday’s press briefing, saying that it is “very Biblical to enforce the law.”
“This is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” Sanders said before shifting to blame Democrats.
“The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade and the president is simply enforcing them,” she said.
Repeatedly, Sanders said the separation policy was “the law,” despite the fact that there is no law requiring families be separated at the border.
Sessions had made a similar argument earlier on Thursday, saying in a written defense to “church leaders” who have spoke out against the program that “persons who violate the laws of our nation are subject to persecution.”
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions wrote.
Defending family separation to "church leaders," Jeff Sessions suggests that the young children kidnapped and imprisoned by immigration agents should be grateful that we are "taking care" of them "at taxpayers' expense." pic.twitter.com/Zx07O3jylh
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) June 14, 2018
Sessions also defended also the policy in a recent radio interview, claiming that most children detained by the government are “not infants,” but admitted that the government has been holding babies and toddlers.
“Most are teenagers, although we do have a number of younger ones now, more than we’ve seen recently,” Sessions said.
Sessions went on to say that the children are “maintained” in a “very safe environment” by Health and Human Services — the same department now reportedly moving forward with tent cities.
“They are kept close by, and if the person pleads guilty [to illegally crossing the border], they would be deported promptly, and they can take their children with them,” Sessions said.
Sessions also blamed migrant parents for the policy in the interview, saying, “We don’t want to do this at all. If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”
In the weeks since the policy has been instituted, a number of harrowing stories about migrant families being separated have made their way into the national news. On Wednesday, CNN reported that federal authorities took a woman’s baby from her while she was breastfeeding, and last week, the Post reported the story of a man who committed suicide after his family was separated at the border.
Homeland Security officials told the Post they said they were “doing more to explain the separation process to parents.” But CNN reported Wednesday that some parents aren’t even being told that they are being separated from their kids for the foreseeable future.
According to the report, some parents have told attorneys they don’t know what happened to their children, and others say they were told their children were just being taken to be bathed or cleaned up.
This article has been updated with additional statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.