The Texas Tribune January 15, 2019NewsComments Off on “The abuse was structural:” Report Offers Glimpse of Life Inside Now-Empty Tornillo Migrant Camp
The tent city popped up over the summer, about 40 miles from El Paso, as the U.S. government sought more space to hold hundreds of unaccompanied teenagers caught crossing the Rio Grande from places like Honduras and Guatemala.
It was supposed to be a temporary solution, but a one-month contract to operate the camp stretched to two months, then three, then into the holidays as its population swelled.
After holding more than 6,000 immigrant teenagers over its seven-month lifespan, the controversial detention center — which drew a steady stream of protestors and fact-finding members of Congress who took tours and denounced what they saw — saw the last of its detainees leave last week. Many were placed with family members or other sponsors in the U.S. while others were sent to different facilities to continue their detention.
In this report, CityLab explores life inside Tornillo, its place in the history of American detention camps and what the place symbolized for the people who call that corner of West Texas home.
The Texas Tribune January 11, 2019NewsComments Off on Tornillo Tent City for Youth Migrants is Now Empty, Texas Congressman Says
A Texas congressman said Friday that the federal government has officially removed all children from the Tornillo detention center for undocumented migrant youths, ending more than half a year of operation for a facility that was decried by critics as a “tent city” and served as a symbol of President Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose West Texas district includes Tornillo, announced the closure on Twitter, saying he had been told about it by the facility’s management.
“This tent city should never have stood in the first place, but it is welcome news that it will be gone,” Hurd said.
BREAKING: I just talked with the management at the Tornillo facility – the last kid just left. This tent city should never have stood in the first place but it is welcome news that it will be gone.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the center, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The hasty closure comes after Texas-based contractor BCFS Health and Human Services and the federal government originally signed a 30-day contract to operate the facility in June. That contract was extended multiple times, despite BCFS officials arguing that the center was not a long-term solution.
The organization’s president, Kevin Dinnin, told Vice News on Friday that he sent the federal government a letter in December saying the facility wouldn’t accept any more children. The government began taking steps to close Tornillo soon after, Vice reported.
“We as an organization finally drew the line,” Dinnin told Vice. “You can’t keep taking children in and not releasing them.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the pending closure this week. As of Tuesday, there were still 850 children being held in the facility. The department said at the time that it expected the vast majority of the children at the facility to be released “to a suitable sponsor by the end of the month.”
At one time, the facility held more than 2,500 children. It has been the site of numerous protests, drawing politicians from across the country to Texas to urge the Trump administration to shut it down.
News of the closure was applauded by many of those politicians, along with immigrant rights groups.
“Tornillo was a symbol of this administration’s deep inhumanity as shown by their willingness to hold tens of thousands of migrant children in detention,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
The Texas Tribune July 10, 2018NewsComments Off on U.S. and Mexico Discussing a Deal that Could Slash Migration at the Border
MEXICO CITY — While President Trump regularly berates Mexico for “doing nothing” to stop illegal migration, behind the scenes the two governments are considering a deal that could drastically curtail the cross-border migration flow.
The proposal, known as a “safe third country agreement,” would potentially require asylum seekers transiting through Mexico to apply for protection in that nation rather than in the United States. It would allow U.S. border guards to turn back such asylum seekers at border crossings and quickly return to Mexico anyone who has already entered illegally seeking refuge, regardless of their nationality.
U.S. officials believe this type of deal would discourage many Central American families from trying to reach the United States. Their soaring numbers have strained U.S. immigration courts and overwhelmed the U.S. government’s ability to detain them. The Trump administration says the majority are looking for jobs — rather than fleeing persecution — and are taking advantage of American generosity to gain entry and avoid deportation.
“We believe the flows would drop dramatically and fairly immediately” if the agreement took effect, said a senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations with the Mexican government, which the official said had gathered momentum in recent weeks.
The proposed agreement has divided the Mexican government and alarmed human rights activists who maintain that many of the migrants are fleeing widespread gang violence and could be exposed to danger in Mexico.
The possible accord is likely to be discussed this week at high-level meetings in Latin America. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday with foreign ministers from Central America and Mexico in Guatemala City. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit Mexico City on Friday.
On the surface, such an agreement would appear difficult for Mexico. The number of Central Americans claiming asylum in Mexico has risen sharply in recent years, and many analysts warn that the country does not have the capacity to settle fresh waves of people. Last year, Mexico’s refugee agency failed to attend to more than half of the 14,000 asylum applications it received, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.
Critics of the plan say that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government should not reach a deal at a time when the Trump administration has used tactics as separating migrant parents from their children at the border.
“It’s ridiculous,” said one Mexican official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Nobody really knows what it is we’re getting in return.”
Even so, some Mexican officials have warmed to the idea.
They argue that requiring Central Americans to apply for asylum in Mexico would undercut the smuggling networks that charge fees of $10,000 or more for a journey from Central America to the United States.
The senior DHS official said the U.S. government has signaled to Mexico that it would be prepared to offer significant financial aid to help the country cope with a surge of asylum seekers, at least in the short term. The investment, which would be paid through the U.S. security-assistance plan for Mexico, the Merida Initiative,would quickly pay for itself, the DHS official argued.
“Look at the amount of money spent on border security, on courts, on detention and immigration enforcement,” the senior official said. “It’d be pennies on the dollar to support Mexico in this area.”
Such an agreement could also allow Mexico’s government to develop its capacity to settle asylum seekers and improve its battered international reputation by taking a public stance in favor of human rights, according to supporters.
“Mexico is interested [in] addressing the fact that both the United States and Mexico have experienced a significant increase in the number of asylum and refugee requests and that a large number of Central American nationals enter Mexico with the intent to reach the United States,” Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico’s ambassador to Washington, said in an emailed statement. “We have engaged the U.S. government in conversations about this matter in order to identify possible areas of cooperation, but we have not reach any conclusion.”
The U.S. government has had a “safe third country” agreement with Canadasince 2004, preventing migrants from transiting through that country to apply for asylum in the United States.
But violence has reached record levels in Mexico, and the border states are particularly dangerous, which could put migrants at risk if U.S. authorities began busing Central Americans back into Mexico.
The State Department’s travel advisories warn U.S. citizens against visiting parts of Mexico, including the border state of Tamaulipas.
“Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread” in the state, a warning from March said.
“It’s one thing to say we’re going to have a safe third-country agreement with Canada,” said Roberta Jacobson, who left her post as U.S. ambassador to Mexico this spring. “It’s another thing to say you’re safe and well as soon as you cross the Guatemalan border into Mexico.”
It might seem surprising that Mexico and the United States are in negotiations at all on migration. Relations between the countries have slumped to their lowest point in years, with the United States threatening to dump the North American Free Trade Agreement and Mexico leading a push recently at the Organization of American States to condemn the Trump administration’s family separation practices as “cruel and inhumane.”
But DHS officials believe they have a window to secure a deal in the lame-duck phase of Peña Nieto’s administration, which ends on Dec. 1. Some on the Mexican side see such an accord as a possible valuable chit in broader negotiations over tariffs and the future of North American free trade.
Under U.S. asylum laws, applicants can generally make a claim only once they are on American soil. That can occur at an airport or a land or sea port of entry and is known as an “affirmative asylum” claim.
But the process can also be initiated by someone who seeks to avoid deportation after crossing illegally, and such “defensive asylum” claims account for the majority of those filed by Central Americans taken into custody along the border. The courts received 119,144 defensive asylum applications in 2017, up from 68,530 in 2016 and just 13,214 in 2008.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border this spring attempted to deter the practice by charging anyone crossing illegally with a federal crime, regardless of whether the person planned to claim asylum. Those criminal proceedings were the mechanism used to separate migrant parents from their children, until Trump’s executive order suspended the practice last month.
“I think the U.S. is looking at a wide range of ways to deter people from coming or to block them entirely, and this would be one way to outsource many of the issues related to migrants and asylum seekers to our southern neighbor,” said Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a migrant advocacy group.
Arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border — a barometer of overall illegal crossings — had plunged in the months after Trump’s inauguration but began climbing again last summer. A sudden surge this spring infuriated the president, who leveled his anger at Nielsen.
She broached the “safe third country” agreement when she visited Mexico in mid-April. But she received contradictory signals from Mexican counterparts, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.
Mexican officials say the plan has divided Peña Nieto’s government. Some in the Foreign Ministry who want to improve ties with the United States remain in favor of at least a pilot project, while others in the Interior Ministry, who would have to handle resettling thousands of Central Americans, stand opposed, officials said.
The winner of the July 1 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has yet to weigh in publicly on the issue. Roberto Velasco, a spokesman for the incoming foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said that the new administration does not “have a position yet since we don’t know the details of the proposal or the negotiations between the two countries.”
Authors: JOSHUA PARTLOW AND NICK MIROFF, THE WASHINGTON POST
Under a rapidly-warming West Texas Sunday morning, amidst the green fields that surround the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry, a group on nearly 2000 protesters, along with local, national and international press, marched on the newly-opened tent camp housing children of immigrants who were rounded up as a result of the Trump Administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy on illegal entry to the U.S.
The Tornillo Tent Camp, named for the town that lies some two miles to the north of the Port of Entry, and almost 4o miles east of El Paso, is at the center of the immigration debate, as the children being kept in the tents and portable buildings at the facility have all been separated from their parents, who attempted to enter the US illegally.
Organized by Congressman Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, who is also running for the Texas Senate Seat held by Ted Cruz, the march featured local leaders including former El Paso County Judge turned Congressional candidate herself Veronica Escobar and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who represents Massachusetts.
The group marched a short distance from the Tornillo/Guadalupe toll lanes and back; originally intending to meet closer to the bridge, near the ‘Tree of Mirrors’ sculpture, the protesters were not allowed to get that close.
With a handful of security guards mixed in with Customs and Border Protection Agents, they formed a loose line at the gate leading to the bridge, however the group and the guards got no closer than 50 or so yards.
With Texas DPS Officers and El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputies looking on, the group chanted, held protest signs and walked arm-in-arm, never getting within visual distance of the tent city or the children housed there.
Under the watchful eyes of several buzzing drones, and at least one group of CBP Agents who took up a station on top of a building in front of the tent city, the group sang the National Anthem, prayed and listened to speakers for almost an hour.
Video by Steven Cottingham, Photographer / Gallery by Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post.