The Department of Health and Human Services will visit Fort Bliss in the coming weeks to determine if the sprawling Army base near El Paso could be in consideration for a tent city to house between 1,000 and 5,000 illegal immigrant children who have been separated from their parents. The plan comes at the same time that Department of Justice’s Zero Tolerance policy has resulted in a 20 percent increase in the number of migrant children held in US government custody. The Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS is responsible for the care of more than 11,200 migrant children being held without a parent or guardian and must routinely evaluate the needs and capacity of approximately 100 shelters, which are now 95 percent full. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families have been apprehended since 2014, when a surge of mothers and children fleeing poverty and violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala raced into the Rio Grand Valley in Texas.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a roundtable last month with Trump charged that loopholes in the system prevent the administration from quickly deporting unaccompanied children, and said loopholes are at the core of a DOJ suit against California seeking to change laws in that state.
“It can take months and sometimes years to adjudicate those claims once they get into the federal immigration court system, and they often fail to appear for immigration proceedings,” Rosenstein said. “In fact, approximately 6,000 unaccompanied children each year fail to appear when they’ve been summoned. They’re released and they don’t show up again.”
Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama, who defended that administration’s use of family detention, said the Trump administration is also likely going to need to return to Congress soon for more money if it wants to keep up this aggressive detention approach. He said it’s much more expensive to separate the parent and children and hold them in two different facilities 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.