President Donald Trump’s administration has erected a temporary encampment near the US-Mexico border in Texas to house the increasing number of migrant children in government custody, a government official confirmed Friday.
Immigrant children traveling alone or separated from relatives can be held by authorities under US rules. The Trump administration has backed family separations, including in asylum cases, as part of efforts to deter illegal immigration.
The new shelter consisting of large temporary tent structures opened Thursday with the capacity for 360 children near an official border crossing point about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of the city of El Paso, according to Kenneth Wolfe of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“It is already open,” Wolfe told AFP, and is designated for “minors referred by DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to HHS for our unaccompanied alien children program.”
He described the large tents housing the children as containing “a full heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, as well as a floor and doors.”
HHS is tasked with caring for “unaccompanied alien children,” which by law is any minor that arrives at the border without parents or relatives, or for whom loved ones were not “available to provide care and physical custody.”
The Trump administration is facing mounting outrage over its decision to systematically bring criminal charges against undocumented immigrants detained at the border, which forces them into federal prisons where children cannot stay.
Previous policy usually allowed families to remain together and often released them into the country until their appointed immigration court dates.
Between April 19 and May 31 of this year, 1,995 children were separated from their undocumented parents or adult guardians, according to DHS.
The temporary shelter near El Paso is the first to be erected by the Trump administration since the new “zero tolerance” policy. The facility became an almost immediate lightning rod for critics.
Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez, a Democrat whose district includes the El Paso area, tweeted that the shelter was not appropriate for children.
“Nor is it a location that has adequate numbers of counselors or therapists to assist these children,” she said.
Activists around the country on Thursday organized a day of protest, decrying the family separations as inhumane and dangerous.
There has also been bipartisan pushback, with Democrats criticizing the separations and even some Republicans expressing reservations.