The Trump administration is looking into erecting tent cities to hold immigrant children on military bases, according to a report Tuesday afternoon.
Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are planning to visit El Paso, Texas in the coming weeks to look at land for the one of the proposed tent cities near Fort Bliss, an Army base in the area. The tents would hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children. McClatchy first reported the plan Tuesday.
In addition to Fort Bliss, HHS officials told McClatchy they are also considering two other Texas bases, Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, as potential tent city locations.
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 several states in 2014.
The Trump administration’s potential new plan to hold immigrant children in so-called tent cities comes after the institution of its new “zero tolerance policy” separating migrant children from their parents. According to McClatchy, since that policy was unveiled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last month, the number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has increased more than 20 percent.
HHS shelters are now reportedly more than 95 percent full and hold more than 10,000 immigrant children.
“Most are not infants. Most are teenagers, although we do have a number of younger ones now, more than we’ve seen recently,” Sessions said, referring to the children they’ve separated from their parents.
He went on, saying, “They are maintained in a very safe environment not by the law enforcement team at Homeland Security, but put with Health and Human Services. And 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 also blamed migrant parents, saying the administration didn’t actually want to institute the policy.
“We don’t want to do this at all,” he said. “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently said that at least 50 children per day are being taken from their parents, and introduced a bill to prohibit the administration from doing so.
Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama, told McClatchy that the Trump administration is most likely going to need to get additional funding approved by Congress if it wants to continue this aggressive “zero tolerance” detention strategy. According to Fresco, it is significantly more expensive to separate the parents and children and hold them in two different areas rather than keeping them together using a monitoring system.
“The point is separating families is not only controversial, it’s also inordinately more expensive,” Fresco said.
The news about the tent cities comes just days after a disturbing report from The Washington Post about a man who committed suicide after his family was separated at the border. One agent told the Post that he didn’t understand why the man, torn from his family, “would choose to separate himself from his family forever” by taking his own life.
Homeland Security officials told the Post they were “doing more to explain the separation process to parents.” Additionally, they told the paper they have set up a special hotline to help people find their children after reports of some immigrants being sent back to Central America while their children remained in U.S. foster care.