Families Divided

The Trump administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of children from adults who crossed the border illegally, has fueled a national outcry. Sign up for our ongoing coverage. Send story ideas to tips@texastribune.org.

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A federal detention center for unaccompanied immigrant minors is up and running in West Texas, just one day after federal officials announced the location.

The office of state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, confirmed the opening of the facility at the federal port of entry at Tornillo, about 20 miles east of the El Paso city limits. As of Friday afternoon, 100 minors were on-site there, Blanco said.

The shelter, which critics have called a tent city because of the makeshift, temporary buildings that are being used, was deemed necessary after President Donald Trump's administration began its policy of “zero tolerance” for people who are seeking asylum and cross into the country illegally in between ports of entry. The policy means that adults will be prosecuted for federal charges while their children are taken into government custody.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said in a fact sheet provided by Blanco’s office that the shelter currently has space for 360 unaccompanied minors “with the ability to expand or contract” as needed.

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Blanco sent the department a written request Thursday inquiring into when the facility would be constructed and if the children would be able to communicate with their family members, among other things.

He told the Tribune Friday afternoon that he was blindsided by how fast the government moved on the project.

“There is clearly a lack of transparency, and clearly this administration is in a hurry to set these tent cities up without any input from the local community, without any input from any kind of third party,” he said.

Blanco said his office has requested a site tour to inspect the facility and have some of his questions answered.

“We don’t want to go two weeks from now,” he said “We want to have access immediately. It’s 100 degrees out, these children are out there in tents, so we want to make sure we have access as soon as possible.”

In a fact sheet, the Department of Health and Human Services asserted the impact to local communities would be minimal and that the minors in the centers spend an average of 57 days in custody. They will be supervised round the clock, and there will be an average of one adult supervisor for every eight children, the sheet stated. The children will also be given vaccinations and medical screenings and must be deemed “fit to travel” before they are transferred from U.S. Border Patrol custody to the health department.

During a conference call with reporters on Friday, Department of Homeland Security officials said that as of May 31, there were 1,995 immigrant children in custody as a result of the “zero tolerance” mandate.

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