EL PASO – Three Democratic U.S. senators including two from New Mexico learned Friday that a holding facility for immigrant children on the Texas border near El Paso appears to be occupied by about 250 teenage boys, mostly from Central America.
The lawmakers made the discovery as they pushed for more information about the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy for immigrants crossing the border illegally.
The fenced-off cluster of tents near Tornillo on Texas’ border with Mexico and other holding facilities for immigrant children are under scrutiny amid confusion over President Donald Trump’s order to stop separating migrant children from families detained while crossing into the U.S. illegally.
A contractor that operates the shelter 30 miles southeast of El Paso briefed U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut without letting the lawmakers enter holding areas or speak with detained minors.
The senators were told that most of the detained children arrived at the U.S. border unaccompanied by parents, though some were separated from family by U.S. authorities. They were shown a video of the teenagers playing soccer.
The senators said that just a few of the teens were in the process of being reunited with their families, and that further information was not available about the reunification process.
They all showed frustration over a lack of communication between officials in Washington, D.C., and the contractors and patrol agents on the ground along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“There is no justification for confining and imprisoning these young people who have done nothing wrong except seek freedom and asylum,” Blumenthal said. “It had a profound effect on me to look out at those tents and imagine what their life is like even though they play soccer and eat good food. The best prison in the world is still a prison.”
It is costing about $2,000 a day to care for each youth at the facility, the senators said.
Trump on Friday hit back against the storm of criticism that has enveloped the White House over the forced separation of children from their migrant parents after illegal border crossings, highlighting the plight of Americans whose loved ones were killed by people who entered the country illegally.
The holding facility at Tornillo has been the backdrop for rallies by elected officials from across the country over the past week in condemnation of Trump’s handling of detentions and prosecutions of immigrant families that illegally cross into the U.S.
Further protests were scheduled for Sunday involving New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and longtime civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.
Group prayers and protests took place Thursday evening at a church in El Paso as two women described being separated from their children as they sought asylum in the U.S.
As the sun set, a large crowd gathered outside St. Mark Catholic Church to recite the rosary – in English and Spanish – for families who have been separated. Some parishioners held signs that called for the families to be reunited, while others offered support for the immigrant community.