Congressmen Dismayed Following Visit to Child Immigrant Detention Center

Monday's second visit by Congressmen Joaquin Castro of Texas and Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts to the Tornillo camp that houses  children of illegal border crossers left both lawmakers with most of their lingering questions still unanswered, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Both U.S. Representatives visited the Far West Texas camp in June, and returned this week hoping to see improved efforts to reunite the children of immigration lawbreakers with their parents, or placed with approved sponsors. 

Instead, they found an enlarged facility housing three times more child detainees than in June, including a corresponding increase in the number of girls held there.

"They are terribly prepared for taking more people into the system and warehousing more kids in the desert in Texas," Castro told reporters during the conference call he and Kennedy hosted hours after their second Tornillo visit.

"I can't tell in this whole process that any of these federal agencies is complying with the Flores Agreement," Castro says, referring to a 1997 court settlement in a case known as Flores v. Reno that requires the government to release within 20 days children detained for immigration offenses to their parents or other suitable caregivers.

 In July a federal judge rejected a Trump Administration request to modify the Flores ruling.

"The length of stay has increased over the last few months for these kids by about a week - that's the government's estimation - but nobody seems to be getting these folks out as far as I can tell, perhaps with the expectation of Border Patrol, in under 20 days, 20 days or less. And it's unclear, at least from my understanding, what they believe their responsibility to be in complying with that settlement."

President Trump has hinted that his administration will return to its controversial policy of immediately separating parents and families upon capture as a deterrent to illegal border crossing.

Kennedy says while it appears that the children's physical and comfort needs are being met as the weather changes, the same cannot be said when it comes to their education or legal assistance. 

He says there are trailers at the camp for meetings with attorneys or legal aid groups, but saw no evidence that they were being used. 

"I was at a table with young girls from Guatemala and Honduras, all of whom said 'Help me. All I want to do is see my parents. Help me find my parents.' And so I have a hard time squaring the idea that those young girls leaping at the opportunity to have somebody help them to be reunited with their families would somehow reject any access to legal services or legal representation if so offered."

The lawmakers say that there is a basic school program in place for the kids, many of whom Castro says appear to be below grade level knowledge according to their ages, "and so the delivery of services is remedial. "It's not what we would think of as going to school," Castro says.

Kennedy also expressed concern over the long-term, potentially traumatic effects on the children from prolonged family separation.

Both Castro and Kennedy say it's readily apparent that extended child detention is highly profitable, but excluded Baptist Child and Family Services, a Christian non-profit that operates the Tornillo facility, from that criticism.

"With a hundred shelters in 17 states and growing this is a booming business for contractors, for private prison companies, for others who make money off of this industry. There are a lot of people with a good heart and good intentions who are helping to take care of the kids, both in Dilley and in torinillo, and I include the folks over at BCFS in that - but it has become an industry, and there a lot of people who are profiteering off of what's going on," says Castro.

There currently are two centers in Texas housing the children of illegal border crossers, one in Dilley South of San Antonio and the Tornillo tent camp. Recently the Trump Administration has talked about using space on military installations to hold undocumented minors.

IMAGE: GETTY

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