US to house migrant children in tents near Mexico border

Protests have been held around the United States against the Trump administration policy of separating migrant families

Chicago (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s administration is erecting tent structures near the US-Mexico border in Texas to house the increasing number of migrant children in government custody, US media reported.

Children who are traveling alone or have been separated from relatives can be held by authorities under US rules, while Trump’s administration has also backed separating immigrant children from parents, including those seeking asylum, as part of efforts to deter illegal immigration.

The new temporary shelter site is located near an official border crossing point about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of the city of El Paso, and will initially house 360 children in large air-conditioned tents, according to media reports.

The shelter was expected to be ready in the next few days. A similar “temporary holding center” was constructed in 2016 at the same location for unaccompanied migrant children and detained families.

The existing network of more than 100 government shelters has begun to fill up. Another Texas shelter, a converted Walmart building, is housing as many as 1,500 boys aged 10 to 17. 

The Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with caring for the children, had been considering military bases as potential sites for additional temporary shelters, according to media reports. 

The shelter near El Paso is the first to be erected by the administration. 

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 against the policy of separating families, which they say is inhumane and dangerous.

The practice has sparked international criticism, with the United Nations denouncing a serious violation of children’s rights.

There has also been bipartisan pushback at home, with Democrats criticizing the separations and even some Republicans expressing reservations. 

Trump meanwhile doubled down Friday on his assertion that Democrats are to blame for the family separations, having passed “bad legislation” and then failed to change border security laws.

“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law,” he told reporters.

Democrats have countered that no law requires the government to separate children from their parents.

Trump has made opposition to immigration a focal point of his presidency. 

His demand for building a border wall was a constant campaign theme, and he has lately referred to some immigrants, particularly gang members, as “animals.”