The nonprofit agency in charge of a high-profile Texas tent encampment for unaccompanied and separated migrant teenagers will pull out of management of the facility by mid-July.
An official with the nonprofit firm, BCSF Health and Human Services, confirmed to KQED that the disaster relief organization would not renew its contract with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement for the cluster of tents near the town of Tornillo, Texas. The employee said that the current contract was signed before the Trump Administration announced its "zero tolerance" immigration policy, and the contract was originally slated to last just 30 days.
The site at Tornillo is believed to be the first in U. S. history to hold undocumented children without their parents. There was immediate outcry once the plans were revealed. Just days after the details of the facility were made public, more than 2,000 people showed up for a protest rally outside the tent encampment.
Officials with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the government agency charged with placing migrant children into care in the U.S., said the camp was needed to house the teenagers, most of whom were teenage boys classified as "unaccompanied minors."
The tent encampment is located on Department of Homeland Security property in the North Chihuahuan Desert, a half-hour drive southeast of El Paso. It is operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with the agency’s contractors. In the past, this land has been used by Homeland Security to temporarily hold undocumented families as their cases were processed. The current encampment was only erected after President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy took effect.
An official with BCSF Health and Human Services confirmed the organization rejected pressure from U.S. officials to renew and expand the facility to 4,000 beds, instead allowing only 400. The tent facility has housed up to 350 children, and currently holds about 250 boys and girls, according to several officials.
Public officials say the coming end of the contract was not a surprise, given the reluctance of the nonprofit agency to run the facility in the first place.
"[BCSF Health and Human Services] were hesitant to take the contract in to begin with," said Alex Annello, an El Paso city councilor. "They were hesitant to take on this kind of work because they are normally emergency services and disaster relief."