EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Concerned about allegations of prolonged detention and inadequate mental health services, advocates want the Biden administration to shut down the migrant children’s facility in Fort Bliss.
Former contract workers say children at the Department of Health and Human Services Emergency Intake Site at the post are suffering from anxiety and frustration over delays in reuniting them with family members or sponsors in the United States. The facility is also a target in a federal lawsuit filed this week by advocacy groups who disclosed cramped and sometimes unsanitary conditions and delays in getting help for the children.
“That camp needs to be shut down […] We cannot afford having children (there), no matter what condition they say they have the children. They don’t belong in a military base,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights. “I know the administration argues there’s a problem of infrastructure […] (but) what kind of message is that sending? Are they dangerous enough to be put in a military base?”
Group members on Friday marched through Downtown El Paso with signs welcoming Vice President Harris to the city. But other carried signs urging the Biden administration to release children from detention.
“What is happening in Fort Bliss with the children sends a message that they are being held against their will. And anything that forces lockup or imprisonment is not right,” said the Rev. Michael Grady, pastor of Prince of Peace Christian Fellowship. “I’m not sure they can be reconnected with families or relatives in the U.S., but certainly they shouldn’t be held for an extended period of time.”
Margarita Arvizu, a member of BNHR who interviewed a former contract worker at the facility for fact-finding purposes, said no child should be placed in detention.
“No child should be in a place like that, no matter how pretty they dress it up. Children shouldn’t be separated from their family” for lengthy periods,” Arvizu said. “Children aren’t criminals. The fact is these children don’t have the opportunities in their countries that we have here. We need (the EIS) to be done away with, not improved, but done away with.”
Late Friday, the Biden administration announced that HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra will visit the Fort Bliss site next Monday. A news release said Becerra will meet with site leaders and volunteers and get a briefing on “the progress that has been made in recent weeks.”
The release said the population of migrant children — boys and girls ages 13 to 17 — at the camp has been reduced from 5,000 to 1,500 now.