Trump administration removes last migrant child from Tornillo facility

Jan. 11 (UPI) — Trump administration officials removed the last unaccompanied migrant child from a so-called “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas, on Friday, a move applauded by federal lawmakers and human rights advocates.

Since December, the Department of Health and Human Services has reduced the population at the temporary shelter near El Paso from a high of nearly 3,000 young migrants to about 700 earlier this week. Federal officials have been working to put the children on flights out of El Paso to sponsors or other facilities in other parts of the country.

“BREAKING: I just talked with the management at the Tornillo facility — the last kid just left. This tent city should never have stood in the first place but it is welcome news that it will be gone,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who represents a border district.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, based out of El Paso, said the closure was good for the children and their families.

“And it shows the power of people who showed up for them and shared with the rest of the country that we were locking up immigrant kids for months at a time. You made this happen,” he tweeted.

Almost 7,000 children have passed through Tornillo in the past seven months, costing U.S. taxpayers more than $144 million.

There was an influx of detained migrant children at the Tornillo facility over the second half of 2018 after the Trump administration instituted its zero-tolerance policy, prosecuting all adults who crossed the border illegally and separating them from their children in the process.

The increase also was partly attributed to enhanced background checks the government says it requires to release children to sponsors in the United States.

New rules required a sponsor to submit fingerprints of all people living in the household. In December, DHHS decided to relax background checks for sponsoring households, giving the first sign it would no longer send unaccompanied children to Tornillo.

Kevin Dinnin, the CEO of Baptist Children and Family Services, a San Antonio-based non-profit that operated the Tornillo site, told Vice that DHHS closed down the facility because he refused to comply with a Trump administration request for him to accept more children there.

“The children were coming in but never leaving,” he said in an interview published Friday. “We as an organization finally drew the line. You can’t keep taking children in and not releasing them.”

The Border Network for Human Rights, a non-profit advocacy group, said that though it is “heartened” by the news of Tornillo’s closure, it is not the end of the Trump administration holding migrant children in detention.

“America must get at the heart of the problem — the intractable inhumanity migrant detention imposes on children, families, and adults. We cannot accept detention that denies adequate food or medical care, denies human contact to children, wields solitary confinement as a punishment, denies access to due process, and consistently fails to meet the government’s own standards,” the organization said.

A Department of Health and Human Services inspector general report in November determined the Tornillo facility did not staff enough mental health clinicians nor did it conduct FBI fingerprint background check on employees.

Another IG audit in December faulted BCFS for failing to complete medical exams on children in a timely manner, post video cameras in all common areas, conduct background checks on sponsors and document the family reunification process.

Patrick Timmons contributed to this report.

Children of the Central American migrant caravan

Albert Yared stands near the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown San Diego on Saturday. Albert traveled with his parents in the migrant caravan from Honduras hoping to seek asylum in the U.S., crossing from Tijuana to San Diego on December 21. They spent their first night in CBP custody, but are now wearing ankle bracelets and headed to Mississippi where they hope to begin their new lives. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A girl plays with a toy cart at Contra Viento y Marea shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sunday. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A boy from Honduras climbs the U.S. border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, with his family on Wednesday. U.S. Border Patrol officers took the family into custody in San Ysidro, Calif. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

The boy and his mother climb the fence. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A family from Honduras traveling with the migrant caravan gets ready to climb the fence in Tijuana, Mexico. Frustration has been growing in the last few weeks at the length of the asylum process so instead of continuing to wait some migrants are trying to climb the border fence. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A child from the caravan looks at the border fence from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, on Sunday. His face is lit by lights from the U.S. side so border agents can monitor illegal crossings at night. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Yeison (L), Johana, their 3-year-old son, Albert Yared, and Yeison’s cousin Milson (R) traveled from Honduras with the migrant caravan. They were staying at the El Batteral shelter for families in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sunday. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Johana hugs her 3-year-old son, Albert Yared. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Children entertain themselves by watching a show on a cellphone at the El Barretal shelter. The shelter is an abandoned concert hall that has the capacity to house 7,500 people. It was about half full on Sunday. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Children who crossed illegally into San Ysidro, Calif., wait under detention from U.S. Border Patrol on December 2. With growing frustration at the length of the asylum process, a dozen migrants decided to jump the border fence that divides the U.S. and Mexico. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A mother and child sit in front of Benito Juarez shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on November 27. Researchers say children may be be hard hit by the strain of the journey. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A boy watches rice and beans ladled up in a long line for food near the Benito Juarez shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on November 28. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Migrants wait in a long line for food. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Children play with toys outside the Benito Juarez shelter on November 27. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A mother cleans her daughter’s shoe while sitting in a tent at the Benito Juarez shelter on November 27. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Marlene Trochez, 25, sits with her daughters, Melanie, 4, and Emily, 2, in a migrant camp in Tijuana, Mexico, near the U.S. border. The family fled Honduras after gang members killed her brother for failing to pay extortion to protect their store. Photo by Patrick Timmons/UPI

Jeimi Gisela Mej’a Meza, 13, of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, displays a smoke canister that was launched at her mother, Maria L’dia Meza Castro, 39, in Tijuana on November 25 as a group of migrants approached the U.S. border. Photo by Patrick Timmons/UPI. | License Photo

A migrant woman clutches her baby moments before US. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officers fire tear gas and smoke grenades across the border and into Mexico near the San Ysidro Port of Entry on November 25. Photo by Patrick Timmons/UPI | License Photo

A child looks through the border fence. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A group of friends from Honduras peer out from a shelter in Tijuana. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A couple and child look through the border fence into the United States. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Migrants, including children, wait in a long line for food near the Benito Juarez shelter. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A group of people sing near the shelter. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Children wait outside the Benito Juarez shelter on November 27. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A young girl waits in line for food in front of the Benito Juarez shelter on November 26. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Food is served to the families at the Benito Juarez shelter on November 26. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

A child attends a Christian service at the new migrant shelter in the eastern part of Tijuana, Mexico, in an area known as El Barretal, on Sunday. Keith Park (L) went to Tijuana with his wife and some volunteers from San Diego, Calif., donating food after their service. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Seven-year-old Hennessey, of Honduras, sits on a swing outside the Benito Juarez shelter on November 27. Hennessey is traveling with her family. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

People wait in line at the Red Cross tent, set up to assist migrants in contacting their families, in front of the Benito Suarez shelter on November 27. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

People wait in long lines for dinner in front of the Benito Juarez shelter on November 26. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Migrants, including a young boy, listen to a Christian service at the shelter. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Members of the caravan passed through Matias Romero, in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca on November 1 on their way from Central America. File Photo by Luis Villalobos/EPA-EFE

A child wearing a superman cape talks t the volunteers at El Barretal shelter located in the eastern part of Tijuana, Mexico on December 9, 2018. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo