EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – An El Paso congresswoman says she would rather wait for improvements at a migrant children’s shelter in Fort Bliss than see it closed. This, despite reports of leaky tents and demands by some community groups to shut down the facility.
The so-called Emergency Intake Site (EIS) has been operating in Fort Bliss since late March and at one point held more than 4,500 boys and girls ages 13-17 in large tents. Just two months later, former contractors came forward with allegations of overcrowding, lice infestations, widespread anxiety, and severe shortcomings in mental health services. The facility has since reduced its children’s population to 790, all boys.
The allegations led groups like the Border Network for Human Rights and others to demand the facility’s closure. The activists want the children to be reunited with relatives in the U.S. promptly. And late last week, El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark J. Seitz told a news website he heard reports of leaks and water accumulating on the side of the tents during recent rains.
“I do not believe we should shut down any EIS,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said on Tuesday. “I think we need to improve conditions at the EIS, number one, and, number two, shorten the amount of time children can stay at an EIS.”
Escobar said “nobody” has been more vocal than her in pushing for improvements at the facility and said recent rains in the El Paso area have posed problems for everyone in the community.
“Every place in El Paso got flooded […] My house is kind of a disaster zone right now because of the rains as well,” she said. “We need to keep things in perspective; I will continue to push for improved conditions at Fort Bliss. There’s still a long way to go, but they’re moving in the right direction.”
Escobar explained her reluctance to shut down any EIS facility. “Shutting down an EIS literally will mean kids staying at (Customs and Border Protection) custody longer. I could never support that,” she said. “In fact, I don’t believe kids should be in CBP custody at all. The EIS are supposed to be very temporary facilities, a jumping-off point to reunite families more quickly or to put kids in more appropriate shelters while they wait for family reunification.”
Late last month, BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia called for the closing of the Fort Bliss EIS.
“We cannot afford having children (there), it doesn’t matter whatever condition they say they have the children in. They don’t belong in a military base,” Garcia said. “What kind of message is that sending? Are they dangerous enough to be put on a military base?”
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra visited the facility last week and cited “progress” in living conditions and care. More services and staff have been added and length of stay prior to being released to licensed facilities is being reduced, he told the Associated Press.