Court testimonials from 17 children last week shed important light on conditions inside Fort Bliss, the unlicensed facility erected by the Biden administration in an attempt to get kids out of harmful, crowded Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities as soon as possible. But kids sent to Fort Bliss have “described crowded living conditions, spoiled food, lack of clean clothes and struggles with depression,” Reuters reported. “A lot of the girls here cry a lot,” one 17-year-old girl said in the report. But as CBS News reports, the level of distress among the child population at Fort Bliss has become “alarming.”
Some children “have refused to eat or spend most of their days sleeping on cots. Workers said they saw migrant girls and boys with cut marks on their wrists and arms,” the report said. ”During one incident in May, a group of teenage boys protested inside a tent, issuing a list of demands to improve their living conditions, three workers said.” Volunteer workers, who “requested anonymity to discuss their time at Fort Bliss because they’re still employed by other government agencies,” told CBS News that some kids have been in distress due to months-long stays at Fort Bliss.
“There’s very little communicated to these kids about the process and amount of time they’ll be here,” one told CBS News. “So they live in constant doubt, uncertainty and fear about what’s gonna happen to them.” The report said that 100 children have been held for at least two months. Carlos Holguín, a Flores Agreement advocate and attorney who likened Fort Bliss to “industrial scale detention,” told CBS News that children he interviewed at the camp “were close to their breaking points.”
“I saw that in the faces of virtually every kid I interviewed at Fort Bliss: A sense of despair and isolation,” he said in the report.
The El Paso Times reports that “contractor issues” at Fort Bliss have “added to turmoil” there. Pressed on conditions at Fort Bliss last Friday, Biden administration official Symone Sanders said that President Biden and Vice President Harris had ordered HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the incidents, CBS News newly reported. But then, “[a] White House official said later on Friday that Mr. Biden did not order a formal investigation.” The official said that “HHS has already been looking into Fort Bliss,” that report continued.
Advocates have long been warning of the danger of these large-scale camps, saying that whenever children have to be in U.S. custody, it should be for as short a time as possible and in a small-scale, home-like environments with licensed professionals. Camps are “inherently traumatizing for children, no matter how clean it is or how many recreation activities the authorities may schedule inside,” Japanese American group Tsuru for Solidarity said this past February about the Carrizo Springs camp.
Becerra is set to visit the camp and meet with camp leaders on Monday. In a release received by Daily Kos, the Border Network For Human Rights (BNHR) said it and allies would be holding a rally in El Paso urging the Biden administration to shut down the camp. “Our job has been to find a safe place—a healthy place — for several thousand of these unaccompanied minor children that have come across the border,” Becerra said according to KTSM. “And we’re doing that as best we can and, so far, we’ve been able to help CBP avoid the thousands of kids that you used to see a few months ago being detained in these adult detention facilities.”
It’s a fact that CBP’s border facilities are unfit for children (and many would argue they’re also unfit for human beings, period). But now instead of being held in those facilities for days on end, they’re being held in these camps for months on end. “It cannot be healthy for children who have left endemic violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America, endured the gauntlet that they had run to get here from Mexico and then to wind up in a facility that is so large and impersonal as Fort Bliss,” Holguín continued to CBS News. El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar said in the report that she’s raised issues “every single time I’ve been there and I’m not seeing improvements.
“The same thing always happens: the minute that children see that I’m talking to a couple of girls or a couple of boys, I’m immediately surrounded by dozens who are desperate to tell me what’s going on with them,” Escobar continued in the report. “And it’s literally the same story over and over.”