EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)– Several immigration advocacy groups gathered at a park outside Fort Bliss to protest the facility on Fort Bliss housing thousands of unaccompanied migrant children.
The facility is operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and military personnel are not assisting in the operation.
The Border Network for Human Rights, Coalition to End Child Detention and the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance organized the protest.
The groups said they were demanding an end to the facility and for all the children to be reunited with sponsors or family members in the U.S.
“No children deserve to be in detention centers much less in this military base,” Fernando Garcia with the BNHR said.
Protesters argued that military facilities allow little to no access for civilian oversight. This protest comes days after former youth care workers at the facility said they were let go and came forward with allegations of poor conditons.
Some of those allegations included lice outbreaks, gang-like activity and emotionally and mentally distressed children.
“They have some relatives in the United States, the resources should be put there in unifying them rapidly, some are waiting in there for 60 days,” Garcia said.
Diana Martinez with the Coalition to End Child Detention said they demand more transparency and want to know why it’s taking so long for the children to leave the facility.
“And to know the conditions in which they’re staying in if the conditions are the standards that are met,” Martinez said.
As KTSM previously reported, KTSM emailed a detailed set of questions to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting a response to the contract workers’ allegations. HHS responded with a fact sheet stating the Fort Bliss site has 3,316 children and a potential capacity of 10,000 beds.
HHS “is working diligently with its interagency partners to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are unified with family members or other suitable sponsors in the U.S. as quickly and safely as possible,” the agency said.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, has previously stated her staff was working to facilitate mental health access to the children who may need to cope with anxiety and depression while in the facility.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, who represents part of El Paso County, was in El Paso as the protest was happening, discussing the search for a solution to the ongoing crisis.
Gonzales recently introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, the only bipartisan and bicameral legislation that addresses the surge in migrants coming across the southern border. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.
Gonzales said he echoed the protesters’ concerns over transparency from HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement at migrant facilities.
“Instead of this head in the sand, the border crisis doesn’t exist, it’s the wrong approach” Gonzales saidn. “The first thing, people have to show up, the president has to show up, the vice president has to show up, show up and see it for yourself and allow media access.”