August 13, 2018

Immigrant advocates say SW detention camps pose toxic threats

Undocumented immigrant children at a U.S. Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Groups advocating for the rights of children and families detained at the southern border are using the Freedom of Information Act to find out exactly where the Trump administration plans to build migrant detention centers on two military bases in the Southwest.

The centers are planned for Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base to house immigrants until their cases are resolved. Both sites are known to have toxic waste threats.

The Southwest Environmental Center has joined Earthjustice in requesting information on the location of those detention camps. Attorney David Baake with Southwest Environmental Center said Fort Bliss has Superfund sites – polluted locations that require long-term cleanup of hazardous material contamination.

“The various, really nasty toxics that could be there, we’re obviously really concerned about it, and the primary concern is that we don’t want innocent families to be poisoned,” Baake said. “We don’t want them to be incarcerated at all, but certainly not in places that are dangerous.”

The government has said the sites are safe. But the Freedom of Information request claims the military bases contain areas that could expose children and adults to dangerous toxic chemicals in the air, water and soil. Earthjustice has requested a response from the government before the end of August.

Baake said the Southwest is being harmed by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration.

“Just this general attitude of militarization has prevented us from maintaining those relationships across the border that have always been central to this area,” he said. “They’re not sensitive to the needs of people of color, people who are low-income.”

In July, the Southwest Environmental Center filed a separate lawsuit in federal District Court in Las Cruces seeking to stop the government’s policy of holding migrant children in detention indefinitely. A hearing on a preliminary injunction could be heard as early as September.