Congressman Will Hurd: Tornillo tent city could expand to 4,000 beds for immigrant kids

June 16, 2018
In The News

After visiting tents erected in Tornillo to house unaccompanied migrant children, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said he is still disappointed in the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about its new policy of separating children from their parents at the border. 

Hurd, a Republican whose district includes the port of entry in Tornillo, visited the new tents late Friday night and met with officials overseeing care of the teenage boys being housed there. 

"At the end of the day, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we should not be using children as deterrents when it comes to our broken immigration system," Hurd said in an interview.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal officials have been looking for temporary housing options to handle the influx of migrant children entering federal custody, due in part to the administration's new "zero tolerance policy" for people entering the country illegally. 

The policy, announced in April by Attorney General Jeff sessions, intensifies criminal prosecution for people caught entering the country between ports of entry.

The policy has sparked outrage from lawmakers and activists nationwide because children who cross with their families are being separated from their parents. Adults crossing illegally face steep criminal charges and their kids land in the custody of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

As of Friday, the shelter in Tornillo had 400 beds prepared and Hurd said it is expected to hit its targeted capacity of 360 people shortly.

Hurd said federal officials are evaluating whether to up the number of beds at the site to 4,000. 

"Which is just absolutely nuts," said Hurd, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee. 

The new shelters that have been constructed near the Tornillo Port of Entry resemble tents that federal officials used after Hurricane Harvey hit the Southeast coast of the state last year. 

Each tent has bed space for 20 children and two adults, as the federal government requires one adult for every ten children. There are also showers, bathrooms, medical facilities, fire trucks and spaces for children to meet with case management workers and lawyers. Hurd said there is also a "chow hall that can fit a couple hundred people at one time." 

The heat in the area has been a key point of concern for El Paso area lawmakers, as temperatures in the area are expected to reach 105 degrees in the coming weeks. Hurd said each tent has a four-ton air conditioning unit. 

For now, the tents are home to 16- and 17-year-old boys who are considered unaccompanied minors, meaning they were apprehended attempting to enter the country illegally without an adult. Hurd said they were moved to the tents in Tornillo from other shelters throughout the country in order to make room for the influx of children who have been separated from their parents.

Hurd said Friday he was frustrated by the lack of information shared by the federal government about its separation policy and the fate of children being housed at shelters like those in Tornillo. After paying a visit to the tents, Hurd said nothing has changed. 

"When you have kids being separated from their families, how does mom or dad know where their kid is? How does a kid know where mom or dad is?" Hurd said, when asked what questions he still had about the process. "How long is this going to go on? What's the next step? How are these kids going to be reunited with their parents?" 

In the past two months, Hurd said there have been about 2,000 separations of kids from their parents at the border. 

"This isn't a Republican or a Democrat issue," Hurd said. "This is about a bad policy folks have created. I think what you saw in Tornillo was the manifestation of a terrible policy of separating kids from their families."