EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant advocates keep pressing the Biden administration to release unaccompanied minors from detention and stop policies they say lead to family separation.
On Friday morning, some 30 activists started a 7.6-mile walk from El Paso’s Paso del Norte port of entry to the gates of Fort Bliss. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said last month it would be temporarily holding up to 5,000 migrant children at the facility.
“We are marching from the border to Fort Bliss (because) the border is where policies in place like Title 42 prevent migration and cause the separation of families,” said Joshua Rubin, a member of Witness at the Border.
The group, Border Network for Human Rights and Hope Border Institute participated in the walk. Members urged Biden to do away with Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order that allows immigration officials to immediately expel individuals and families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization.
Advocates say that’s prompting migrant families to send their children across the border alone, knowing that unaccompanied minors are exempt from the policy.
“When children come over alone, they’re sent to places like Fort Bliss, where they wait for way too long to reach their families who are here,” Rubin said. “We have to stop separating families and forcing them to send their children alone by themselves. When people come over, we think they should be treated with dignity.”
The walkers said they hope the march catches the attention of lawmakers and federal officials. They carried signs saying “Fort Bliss is no place for children” and “Welcome with Dignity.”
“Children that could be with their families are incarcerated in Fort Bliss. We want to call attention to this because (a military facility) is no place for children. They should be with their families, with sponsors,” said Julie Swift, also a member of Witness at the Border.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday told Border Report that the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site (EIS) has 3,858 boys and girls ages 13 to 17.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, toured the facility and met with some of the minors.
“This is what needed to happen as swiftly as possible. I know everyone at the Central Processing Center is stressed out […] this is much better,” she said after her visit. She described large open spaces at the facility, with a cafeteria and sleeping cots.
Escobar said almost half unaccompanied children that came into the U.S. last month had at least one parent already living in the United States and that 85% had either a parent or a close relative on this side of the border.
Rubin said that makes detaining migrant children unacceptable.
“If you were sending your kid across the country to another family member, nobody would take your kid off the bus and put him in a detention center, would they? That’s the situation here. We’re putting children in detention who are on their way to their family,” he said.