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.
MCALLEN — Every afternoon, dozens of immigrant families released by the U.S. government walk three blocks from the Greyhound bus station in this South Texas border city to a migrant shelter run by Catholic Charities. Along with the clothes slung over their shoulders, the migrants sometimes carry government-issued containers — dark-blue receptacles resembling lunch boxes, with plastic handles that shine in the mid-afternoon sun. On the front of each container, the black-and-white logo of the GEO Group, the for-profit prison corporation that operates immigrant detention centers in the United States, hints at the contents: power cords required to charge the electronic tracking bracelets that tens of thousands of migrant adults, including most of the asylum-seekers who come through McAllen, are required to wear around their ankles so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can monitor their whereabouts between court dates. Migrants are quick to acknowledge that they would rather wear ankle monitors than sit in a detention facility, and those who wear them almost always show up for required hearings, according to ICE data. But the devices can disrupt almost every aspect of daily life, from sleeping and exercising to buying groceries and getting a job, according to more than a dozen attorneys, immigrant advocates and Central American asylum-seekers.
Rotten sandwich meat that’s turned green or black; noodle soup cooked so little that the noodles are still hard; drinking water that smells like chlorine, Clorox or “just bad.” Cramped, cold conditions; tearful separations of children and mothers; guards who said Mexicans won’t ever receive asylum in the United States. In more than 1,000 pages of new court declarations from children and adults in federal custody, several hundred migrants who crossed the border seeking asylum describe long waits for medical care, outbreaks of chicken pox and untreated diaper rashes. The documents detail minimal access to legal services, with obstacles like language barriers and migrants’ confusion about their own rights. Some migrants say they are told they aren’t welcome in the United States; others are told it doesn’t matter what they try, they’ll be deported in a matter of days. Many of these families were separated under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, a now walked-back practice of sending parents into federal custody to be criminally charged for illegal border entry while their children were held in federally run shelters.
The Trump administration has selected Tornillo Land Point of Entry, a crossing point along the Texas-Mexico border near El Paso, as the site of its first temporary shelter for immigrant children separated from their parents under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed Thursday. The department chose the site in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, according to the spokesperson. The federal government will erect tents at the site to house immigrant children whose parents are facing prosecution for crossing the border illegally. Under the new “zero tolerance” policy, which U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April, thousands of children have been separated from their parents at the border and have quickly filled Texas shelters. The Tornillo site will take in 360 children in the coming days and expand from there, according to the department spokesperson.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday morning sent a clear message to members of Houston’s immigrant community who might fear seeking help during Hurricane Harvey because of their legal status. “There is absolutely no reason why anyone should not call [for help]. And I and others will be the first ones to stand up with you,” Turner, an attorney, said to reporters. “If someone comes and they require help and then for some reason [someone] tries to deport them, I will represent them myself.”
Turner responded directly to a question about Senate Bill 4, the state’s immigration-enforcement law that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law in May and it is scheduled to go into effect Friday.
For the first time in 20 years, the number of Texas executions will fall out of double digits this year. The seven men put to death this year are the fewest since 1996, when executions halted amid legal challenges to a new state law intended to hasten the death penalty appeals process, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Only one more execution is scheduled for 2016. “There is clearly a change going on in Texas,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Judges and appellate courts rescheduled or stopped executions 15 times for 11 people in 2016.
Texas wants to take its voter identification battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the justices to hear his arguments about why the state’s photo ID requirements for voting do not discriminate against Hispanics and African-American voters. “Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy,” the Republican said in a statement. “Voter ID laws both prevent fraud and increase the public’s confidence in our elections. Texas enacted a common-sense voter ID law and I am confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately reinstate it.”
Texas officials say the voter ID law prevents voter fraud, which Gov. Greg Abbott has called “rampant.”
In a video message intended for the tens of thousands of men and women working to keep drugs and people from illegally entering the United States, then-Deputy Border Patrol Chief Ron Colburn wanted to leave little doubt about the consequences for those who betrayed their mission. “The light of justice will ultimately drive you from the shadows,” Colburn said in the 2009 message, one of many produced by the agency to combat corruption in its ranks. “You will find no safe haven among fellow criminals. You will be identified. You will be arrested.
Hey, Texplainer: Britain voted to leave the European Union. Can Texas secede from the United States? In the wake of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union — nicknamed the “Brexit” — speculation of a Texit on the horizon has cropped up once again. The secessionist movement has a long history in the Lone Star State. Delegates for the Texas Republican Party even recently debated adding secessionist language to the party’s platform.
Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here. Sometimes, your only choices are “naive” and “cynical” — as when the question is whether to believe what political people say. Naive: Trust them! They’re telling you want you need to know to participate in the epic wonderland of civic life. Cynical: Don’t trust them!