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'Tent City' in Texas for Migrant Boys to Expand and Stay Open Until End of Year

September 11, 2018 - 11:30 am
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(CBS News) -- A "Tent City" for migrant boys in Texas will stay open until at least the end of the year and will expand its capacity to include up to 3,800 beds, CBS News has learned. The shelter, which opened on June 14 at the Tornillo Port of Entry, originally held about 400 boys who had been apprehended after crossing the Mexican border, either unaccompanied or separated from adults after entering the U.S.

This marks the third time the temporary facility's closure has been delayed. It was originally slated to close July 13.   

In early July, BCFS, the nonprofit contracted to manage it, was notified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that the facility would be kept open longer.

The 30-day grant for the shelter, which includes two rows of bunk bed-lined tents, was extended in August and again this week. Both BCFS and the HHS confirmed the extension to CBS News.

"The need for the continuation of the operation at Tornillo is based on the number of unaccompanied alien children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS' Administration for Children and Families, who crossed the border alone without their parent or legal guardian," said HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe. "'Family separations' resulting from the zero-tolerance policy ended on June 20, 2018, and are not driving this need."

Wolfe said in the statement that the site's expansion would be done incrementally. 

BCFS Vice President Krista Piferrer said in an email that the facility's needs are assessed weekly.

During a press tour of the facility on June 25, the BCFS commander of the site was critical of the federal government's decision to open it. He said it was opened as "a direct result of the policy to separate kids by this administration," referring to the now-discontinued "zero tolerance" policy for migrants caught crossing the border outside authorized entry points. The policy, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 6, set a goal of prosecuting 100 percent of adults caught violating immigration law — even if they needed to be separated from children they were traveling with. 

"This was a dumb, stupid decision that should've never happened," the BCFS commander told media on June 25.

Wolfe did not immediately respond when asked if any of the boys at the Tornillo facility were among those separated from their families.

A CBS News investigation revealed on July 5 that a loophole in federal policy allows the Tornillo facility and another massive temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, to escape the rigorous, often unannounced child welfare inspections that all other similar shelters operated by ORR are subjected to. 

Tornillo and Homestead are located on federal land, where state officials have no authority.  

They remain open nearly three months after the federal government's zero-tolerance policy was suspended on June 20 via an executive order issued by President Trump following widespread public outcry. Six days later, a federal district court judge ordered the federal government to reunite all separated children by July 26. 

Hundreds of children in federal custody remain separated from their parents, many of whom were deported.