What began as an emergency 30 day shelter in Tornillo, Texas for fewer than 400 migrant children has now ballooned to at least 1800 children and has become a costly, heavily guarded tent prison. Costs per child appear to be at least 50% higher than originally disclosed by the government at $1,200 per child per day. According to shelter officials, whose expertise is setting up shelters in the wake of natural disasters for first responders, the ratio of mental health providers to children is 1:50 rather than 1:12 required by federal policy. Because the Office of Refugee Resettlement waived requirements, none of the staff have undergone FBI fingerprint checks usually used to screen applicants. Tornillo holds more detained children than all but one US federal prison, and expansion continues.
Almost all the teens detained have arrived in the United States unaccompanied, seeking asylum. Under previous administrations, these children were allowed to join family members already residing in the US to await immigration hearings. The Trump administration now requires every adult in the home to which the child is going to live to submit to fingerprinting. The result is few adults are willing to also risk their own fragile living situations, and children end up left in detention facilities for longer periods than ever before, and many face deportation with the threat of felony charges if they ever return. A record 14,000 migrant children, often fleeing gang or domestic violence, are now detained around the country.
Over 50 years of research has shown that detaining young people is deeply traumatizing, and yet the administration refuses to consider the toll their hardline policy is taking on these children. While some lawmakers have called for hearings and that FBI checks be reinstated, it is clear that detaining children for long periods cannot continue. Demand your representative call for immediate closure of facilities like Tornillo and a change in policy to allow children to live with family without fear of being reported.