Department of Health and Human Services Considering Building a Tent City to Hold Thousands of Children

[Content Note: Nativism; child abuse.]

A month ago, we learned that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has sent an email to Pentagon staffers, notifying them that the HHS would be making site visits to four military sites in Texas and Arkansas "to evaluate their suitability to shelter children."

It was a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions had publicly threatened to forcibly separate undocumented families, to detain children separate from their parents, and to designate them "unaccompanied minors," even if they are actually not, as part of the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" policy at the southern border.

The administration realized that policy would precipitously increase the number of children in HHS custody, and so it did: By the end of May, the number of "unaccompanied minors" in HHS custody surged by 21%, leaving HHS shelters at 95% capacity.

So earlier this month, we again heard that HHS was contemplating housing children they were forcibly separating from their parents at military sites.

Now Franco Ordoñez reports at McClatchy, Trump's Department of Health and Human Services is "looking to build tent cities at military posts around Texas to shelter the increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children being held in detention."
The Department of Health and Human Services will visit Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army base near El Paso in the coming weeks to look at a parcel of land where the administration is considering building a tent city to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the plans.

...The Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS is responsible for the care of more than 11,200 migrant children being held without a parent or guardian and must routinely evaluate the needs and capacity of approximately 100 shelters, which are now 95 percent full.

...Advocates accused the Trump administration of using the children as pawns to score political points.

"Detaining children for immigration purposes is never in their best interest and the prospect of detaining kids in tent cities is horrifying," said Clara Long, U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch. "US authorities should focus on keeping families together, ensuring due process in asylum adjudications, and protecting the rights of children."
Instead, Trump has tasked Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen with executing a policy that tears families apart, denies due process, and abuses children.

It is appallingly indecent that the United States government would even consider housing children in "tent cities" in the heat of the El Paso summer, which averages 95 degrees in July. Children are "more susceptible to heat illness than adults for many reasons, including a greater surface area to body mass ratio, lower rate of sweating, and slower rate of acclimatization. The prevention of heat illness is based on recognizing and modifying risk factors," like, presumably, not housing children in concentration camps in the El Paso heat.

Or anywhere else.

Trump's BFF Joe Arpaio, whom he pardoned last year, was the sheriff who ran a "tent city" — which he himself called a concentration camp — to house inmates in the Arizona desert for more than two decades. Here is how one former detainee in Arpaio's concentration camp describes the inhumane conditions:
During the sweltering summer, the temperature could reach 115 or 120 degrees. I was in the tents when we hit 120. It was impossible to stay cool in the oppressive heat. Everyone would strip down to their underwear. There was no cold water, only water from vending machines; and eventually, the machines would run out. People would faint; some had heatstroke. That summer, ambulances came about three times. One man died in his bed.

But the winter was even worse. During the winter, there were no heaters. Most jackets and heavily insulated pants weren't allowed; they don't want you to be comfortable.

When the temperatures dropped, we were forced to come up with makeshift ways to keep ourselves warm. The showers were kept scalding hot during both summer and winter. We hated to shower, but we would fill our empty water bottles up with the nearly boiling water and put the bottles between our blankets when it was freezing outside. We also would save the plastic bags we found when we cleaned up the jail yard and wrap our feet with them, tucking hot water bottles inside to keep our feet warm while we slept.

Still, it was freezing, achingly cold. I was in so much pain that winter that now, when I'm cold, it reminds me of being there.
These are the conditions to which the Trump administration wants to subject children that they have torn away from their parents to make a political point to shame asylum-seeking people who have committed no crime.

And what does the Republican Party, the party of moral values cough, have to offer these children in response to their imminent torture?


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