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Home | Tag Archives: tornillo camp

Tag Archives: tornillo camp

State Senator José Rodríguez Coordinating “Gifts for Good” for Children at Tornillo Camp

With the migrant children’s camp just outside of Tornillo still holding scores of kids, and the approach of the holidays, State Senator José Rodríguez is working with officials to make their time there a bit brighter.

As many from the community have asked how they can help, Rodríguez and his office are coordinating a “Gifts for Good” drive for the youth in the Tornillo detention center, which currently holds 2,400 children.

“The holidays are a time of the year where most people enjoy spending time with their families. These youth have been away from their families for who knows how long. We hope these gifts bring some holiday cheer,” said Rodríguez.

According to a news release from  Senator Rodríguez’s office adds”the children are not allowed visitors, gifts of any kind, or even hugs.”

However, for this holiday season, the Rodríguez has received permission to provide a gift of a soccer ball. Join the Senator’s office to bring a smile to a child by ordering from a pre-selected wish list of soccer balls, which can be found via this link.

Officials say there is no limit to the number of gifts that a person can sponsor.

All gifts must be shipped to the District Office, which is at 100 North Ochoa Street, Suite A, El Paso, TX 79901, by December 13, 2018.

With Contract Set to Expire, Still No Word on What’s Next for Immigration Center at Tornillo

With just weeks before a federal contract to operate a West Texas detention center for undocumented immigrant minors is set to expire, there is still no word whether the Trump administration plans to keep the site open into 2019.

But the shelter operators maintain that another contract extension would be just one more short-term solution to a larger problem that needs a permanent fix.

The contract between the federal Health and Human Services’ Offices of Refugee Resettlement and San Antonio nonprofit BCFS to operate the controversial detention camp at Tornillo is due to expire at the end of this month after being extended several times since the original 30-day contract in June.

“The ball is in their court,” said BCFS spokeswoman Evy Ramos. “We have said to them just recently this week, we can’t just keep extending this, this is not a permanent solution. Something else has to be figured out.”

The facility — a collection of dozens of military-grade tents on the grounds of a federal port of entry surrounded by acres of farmland — has swelled from a few hundred immigrants in June to about 2,300. Its capacity was expanded to about 3,800 after the administration realized the flow of unauthorized minors seeking asylum in the United States did not dwindle despite efforts to deter asylum seekers by turning them away at the international ports of entry and urging the Mexican government to block Central Americans from traveling through that country.

If the government didn’t extend the contract for Tornillo, it would have to build or find another facility that’s designed for long-term detention, Ramos said. But that decision is ultimately up to ORR officials. She said the company, which as of Nov. 30 had received just over $144 million from the government to run the facility, doesn’t know what the government plans to do. But it “will not just abandon the children in Tornillo,” Ramos said.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said late Wednesday that children in the agency’s care would continue to be “provided critical services in a safe and compassionate matter,” no matter where they are placed.

“Just like we have in the past, we will make a public announcement when/if operation at Tornillo are extended,” he said.

Ramos isn’t the first BCFS employee to question the Trump administration’s handling of undocumented immigrant children. In June, the incident commander at the facility said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy — which resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents — was a mistake that prompted building the makeshift shelter in Tornillo. The president ended the policy about two months after it was initiated after a public outcry over the family separations.

“It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” the incident commander said at the time, adding that he hoped to never again conduct a similar operation. He added that he thought the facility wouldn’t be needed past the middle of July, when the first contract was set to expire.

That was almost six months ago.

When the facility first opened, a small number of children at the facility had been separated from their parents under zero tolerance. Ramos said Wednesday that all the children currently in the facility are minors who arrived to the country without a parent or guardian, and the large majority are from Central America.

Tornillo holds youths age 17 or younger. Before they can be released to a U.S. sponsor, those adults need to be vetted. Ramos said that process has slowed considerably since the summer, when minors were released after only a few weeks in the facility.

“I support the fact that they need to do fingerprinting and background checks on every adult in the [sponsor’s] home in order to ensure the safety of the children,” she said. “It’s just the speed at which they’re doing it, it’s just taking too long.”

Last week, a report from the Office of the Inspector General confirmed media reports that employees at the facility did not undergo FBI background checks. The issue was first reported by VICE News last month.

Ramos said that at BCFS’s long-term care facilities that are licensed by the state, access to the FBI database is allowed because the state acts as BCFS’s government sponsor. But because Tornillo is a federal project on federal land, that access hasn’t been granted.

“We’re wondering why ORR couldn’t have been our sponsoring agency in order to be able to process those FBI fingerprint background checks,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want to, or wanted to go around it. We could not do it.”

After the OIG report was released, U.S. Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif. and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called for HHS and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately close the facility.

“It is clear the administration’s actions are putting thousands of children in danger,” they wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Weber said the Office of Refugee Resettlement is working with the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety “to conduct FBI fingerprint background checks as quickly as possible for current and future employees at Tornillo.” He added that BCFS has conducted other pre-employment background checks, including standard state felony and misdemeanor checks and multi-state sex offender registry checks.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

U.S. Officials Have Been Keeping Migrants From Crossing Bridges, Now Mexico is Doing the Same

REYNOSA, Mexico — It was the third time Ingrid had tried to make it across an international bridge into Texas.

The first time, she said, Mexican officials stopped her on the bridge into Laredo and demanded that she pay $1,500 for her and her two children to cross into the United States, where she planned to seek asylum.

A few weeks later, they barred Ingrid — a Mexican permanent resident born in Guatemala, with Mexican-born children — from passing the turnstiles to cross the bridge into Hidalgo, threatening to deport her and rip up her documents.

And on Tuesday, a Mexican officer in a beige uniform sprinted after Ingrid as she walked past the turnstile and up to the midpoint of that same bridge, which spans two nations grappling with their own influx of Central American migrants.

“Can I see your documents?” the officer, Alejandro Vargas, asked Ingrid, maneuvering his body in front of her. “I need to see your documents. It’s the orders from my boss.”

Ingrid, who declined to give her last name to protect her safety, said Mexican authorities later told her that if she attempted to cross the border again, her Mexican residency would be stripped and she would be deported to Guatemala.

It’s a move immigration lawyers say is becoming increasingly common along Mexico’s northern border following months of shifting U.S. immigration enforcement strategies that have prevented some migrants like Ingrid from entering the United States to seek asylum. This time, it’s Mexican officials who are cracking down.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials started turning migrants away before they could even reach the U.S. side of the bridge, telling them ports of entry were full. On one bridge, U.S. Customs and Border Protection even erected a physical structure on the invisible line between the two countries. But after asylum-seekers started camping out on the Mexican side of the bridges — sometimes sleeping on cardboard for days at a time — Mexican officials began blocking Central American migrants from entering those bridges at all.

“Before, if someone was illegally on the border, and there was a suspicion that they were going to leave the country, [Mexican immigration officials] would turn a blind eye,” said Isauro Rodríguez, an immigration lawyer based in Reynosa. “Now, they’re actually clamping down as hard as they do in other parts of Mexico.”

Advocates and lawyers on both sides of the border have various theories as to why Mexican officials are suddenly cracking down on asylum-seekers. Some believe the Mexican government is trying to save face politically, as U.S. officials question why Mexico isn’t doing more to stem the northern flow. Others argue Mexican immigration authorities are under the thumb of cartels, which want to force migrants into costly smuggling rings.

Rochelle Garza, a lawyer based in Brownsville, has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking for Ingrid and a dozen others in similar situations to be allowed to cross international bridges to seek asylum. The migrants have a right to leave Mexico and the right to seek asylum in the United States, she said, and neither country is cooperating.

Mexican migration officials declined to comment for this story.

But Hector Hugo Alemán Pacheco, an official with Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, said in a letter responding to inquiries from lawyers that allowing immigrants free entry across the bridge into the United States would mean telling Mexican migration authorities to ignore their mandated responsibilities.

“Individuals who enter or exit national territory must do so complying with immigration law and its regulations,” he said, “with intervention from migration officials.”

The petition Garza filed with the human rights commission accuses U.S. officials of asking their Mexican counterparts to ramp up enforcement. An affidavit signed by Jennifer Harbury, a Mercedes-based lawyer who accompanied Ingrid onto the Hidalgo bridge twice, said she was told by Mexican officials that the U.S. Border Patrol had instructed them to apprehend migrants. She said in some instances, Central American asylum-seekers reached the midpoint of bridges, only to be stopped by U.S. officials and told to sit down on the Mexican side. Then, Mexican officials would arrive to question the migrants.

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection declined to comment for this story, instead pointing to previous statements that say the agency is “not denying or discouraging” migrants from seeking asylum: “Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities.”

The increased immigration enforcement by Mexico means it’s becoming increasingly difficult for asylum-seekers like Ingrid to ask for asylum the “right” way — by crossing into the United States at an official port of entry.

She could stay on the Mexican side of bridge, hoping for another chance to cross. But Mexican officials could apprehend her for loitering in a federally controlled area.

She could pay a smuggler to take her across the Rio Grande illegally. But Ingrid doesn’t have the money.

It’s even riskier for migrants who — unlike Ingrid — are in Mexico illegally and could be deported at any time. Rodriguez, the Reynosa lawyer, said while migrants can theoretically appear before a Mexican judge to ask for an amparo, a kind of temporary reprieve from deportation, costly legal fees prevent them from doing it.

“What other choice do these individuals have if they’re being forced back into Mexico, where they’re being picked up by cartel members, where they’re being extorted?” asked Garza, the Brownsville lawyer.

Author: TEO ARMUS – The Texas Tribune

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Editor’s note: The Texas Tribune and TIME have partnered to closely track the family separation crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. This story is not available for republishing by a national news organization until Oct. 12 at 6 a.m. Texas news organizations may run it at any time. For more information email nchoate@texastribune.org.

Federal Government to Greatly Expand Tornillo Shelter for Unaccompanied Minors

The immigration detention center at Tornillo used to hold undocumented immigrant minors will remain open through the end of the year, a government spokesperson said Tuesday.

The decision marks the third time the facility’s operations have been extended since it opened in June.

It’s necessary because of the ongoing arrival of unaccompanied immigrant minors in the United States, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an email. The extension is not in response to President Donald Trump’s former “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their parents or guardians, which has been placed on hold after a national uproar.

The facility will also expand to 3,800 beds, spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe said. Earlier this summer, the facility reportedly had around 400 beds.

“These temporary beds will be brought online incrementally as needed. We will continue to assess the need for this temporary shelter at Tornillo Land Port of Entry in Tornillo, Texas, based on the projected need for beds and current capacity of the program,” Wolfe said.

The facility, which critics have called a “tent city,” was opened after the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy. It has mainly housed undocumented immigrant children who came to the country on their own, though there have been some separated minors detained there. Wolfe said that San Antonio-based BCFS Health and Human Services will continue operating the facility.

Critics decried the decision to keep it open and expand capacity.

“This administration has resorted to putting kids in tents rather than pushing for comprehensive immigration reform while Congress sits complicit with inaction,” said state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, who called on Texas Republicans in Congress to “show courage” and be more vocal on the issue. “It’s immoral and un American.”

Last month, the facility held 170 undocumented minors, the majority from Central America. The increase of thousands more beds means the Trump administration is likely preparing for the prolonged detention of more minors, state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, told the Tribune.

Immigrant rights groups have asserted all year that the administration has created unnecessary barriers for families or sponsors willing to take in the unaccompanied minors. After the family separation crisis, critics complained that some families were made to undergo more vetting than others.

“It is a result of the policy the administration has implemented, for example the stricter rules when it comes to connecting children to family members once they’re here,” Gonzalez, whose district includes Tornillo, said. “It’s created a backlog and people getting stuck in it.”

The administration also announced last week plans to circumvent current legal settlement that mandates minor children cannot be detained for more than 20 days. The agreement, reached in 1997 and called the Flores agreement, is a magnet that encourages illegal crossings, the administration has said.

Customs and Border Patrol statistics show the number of unaccompanied minor apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol has decreased over the summer months. In July about 3,900 unaccompanied minors were apprehended or turned themselves in on the country’s southwest border. That’s a dip from about 5,100 in June and about 6,380 in May.

Statistics for August haven’t been released, but a spokesperson in the Rio Grande Valley said the past few weeks have been a busy one for that Border Patrol sector, which is historically the most active in the country. On Tuesday morning, agents in the sector apprehended 131 undocumented immigrants in two separate instances within 24 hours, including 45 family units and 21 unaccompanied children, a spokesperson said.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Operator of Migrant Facility in Tornillo says it Might Not Stay Open Past July 13 When Contract Expires

TORNILLO — The tent city erected at this port of entry near El Paso was quickly built and opened less than two weeks ago to house undocumented immigrant children. On Monday, its operator said it may not keep operating after July 13, when its federal contract expires.

The incident commander for BCFS Health and Human Services, which operates the facility, said he doesn’t yet see a need to extend operations beyond that date because he doesn’t the arrival of many more minors. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told reporters during a tour of the facility that the government could ask to extend the contract — and even expand the facility if needed.

“The federal government will make a decision [later] about future needs,” said HHS spokesman Mark Weber.

HHS and BCFS officials gave about two dozen reporters a tour of the controversial facility, although they did not allow photography or audio recordings and interactions with the children were limited to greetings.

As of Monday morning, the facility housed 326 minors including 162 from Guatemala, 117 from Honduras, 40 from El Salvador, three from Mexico and four from countries simply classified as “other.” About two dozen children who were separated from their families at the border have arrived at the facility, and officials said three of those children have so far have been reunified with family members. Another 67 of the unaccompanied minors who arrived alone have been reunited since arriving at the facility.

Reporters were given a briefing on the facility’s operations inside a mobile command unit, where about 12 BCFS staffers monitored the facility through cameras and computer screens, kept a daily track of visitors and updated a daily tally of the facility’s population. The BCFS incident commander, who asked not to be identified by name, said security was essential due to the number of elected officials and media who had descended on the facility.

The rest of the sprawling facility, constructed in just three days, consisted of about 20 tents that act as dormitories. Each unit, with names like Alpha 10, has 10 bunk beds equipped to handle 20 minors at a time. Drawings and pages from coloring books could be seen tacked to some of the walls, many containing Bible verses, and a daily schedule dictating everything from laundry to lunch was taped to a table at the dorm entrances.

When one group is waiting in line to use the showers, another is taking its turn at the phone stations. And before it gets too hot, some of the minors are allowed to play soccer on a makeshift field that sits just south of the dormitories. Every unit is air conditioned and Weber said there have been no complaints about the heat.

The BCFS official said the operation is staffed by about 250 people, including translators, medical staff and counselors that help the children make calls to family members. He said it resembles a boot camp because it’s the easiest way to keep order.

He had scathing words for the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” mandate that resulted in the separation of thousands of minor children from their parents after they were apprehended or surrendered themselves at the border.

“It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” he said, adding several times he hopes to never again conduct an operation like this one.

Meanwhile, Weber pushed back against claims that HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s process to reunite parents with their children has been chaotic so far. Several legal aid providers have criticized the process, saying it consists of little more than a 1-800 number that parents of other advocates can call to get information on where their children are.

“We know where the parents are, we are working as fast as we can” to get them in touch with their children, Weber said.

He said a some anecdotal stories about parents unable to locate their children isn’t the reality for most families. He said the process also includes verifying that a person is authorized to accept the child, and that takes time.

“We need to verify documentation [because] we don’t want to release a child too soon. It takes time.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

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