Families Divided

Tornillo tent city for youth migrants is now empty, Texas congressman says

"This tent city should never have stood in the first place," U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said Friday on Twitter.

An aerial view of the "tent city" in Tornillo, Texas, on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The shelter opened in June.
Families Divided

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* This story has been updated to include comment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The federal government has removed all children from the Tornillo detention center for undocumented migrant youths, ending more than half a year of operation for a facility that was decried by critics as a "tent city" and served as a symbol of President Donald Trump's hardline approach to immigration.

Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday that all unaccompanied children sheltered at Tornillo "have been either released to an appropriate sponsor or transferred to other shelters throughout our network of care providers."

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose West Texas district includes Tornillo, had prevoiusly announced the closure on Twitter, saying he had been told about it by the facility's management.

"This tent city should never have stood in the first place, but it is welcome news that it will be gone," Hurd said.

The hasty closure comes after Texas-based contractor BCFS Health and Human Services and the federal government originally signed a 30-day contract to operate the facility in June. That contract was extended multiple times, despite BCFS officials arguing that the center was not a long-term solution.

The organization's president, Kevin Dinnin, told Vice News on Friday that he sent the federal government a letter in December saying the facility wouldn't accept any more children. The government began taking steps to close Tornillo soon after, Vice reported.

"We as an organization finally drew the line," Dinnin told Vice. "You can’t keep taking children in and not releasing them."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the pending closure this week. As of Tuesday, there were still 850 children being held in the facility. The department said at the time that it expected the vast majority of the children at the facility to be released "to a suitable sponsor by the end of the month."

At one time, the facility held more than 2,500 children. It has been the site of numerous protests, drawing politicians from across the country to Texas to urge the Trump administration to shut it down.

News of the closure was applauded by many of those politicians, along with immigrant rights groups.

"Tornillo was a symbol of this administration’s deep inhumanity as shown by their willingness to hold tens of thousands of migrant children in detention," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

But Johnson said facilities like the one in Tornillo are necessary.

"As the Trump administration continues to enforce current laws to address our nation’s crisis at the border, the program will need to continue to evaluate needs and capacity in order to care for the hundreds of [children] that cross the U.S. border daily," she said in a statement. "The program is designed to expand and contract to meet these needs and facilities, like Tornillo, have been critical during periods of influx as was done in 2012, 2014, and 2016.”

Julian Aguilar contributed reporting.

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