Over 100 people attend rally at Fort Bliss to demand child detention ends now

Immigrant rights advocates in Texas are demanding the Biden-Harris Administration immediately stop detaining immigrant children at the Ft. Bliss “emergency intake site” as well as the phase out of all “emergency intake” and “influx” sites.Instead, they demand a revamp of reunification efforts, an end to policies like Title 42 which have contributed to the separation of children from their families, and when reunification cannot be rapidly achieved placement of children in licensed small scale facilities (25 children or less) that are clean, safe, and uncrowded.

At a rally and news conference today outside Fort Bliss, the advocates continued ongoing efforts to the inhumane conditions that almost 2,500 children are currently living in. Staff at Fort Bliss have reported unsanitary conditions, including limited access to showers and poor food such as raw chicken. Additionally, children report being unable to leave their cots most of the day and unable to sleep due to the cold at night. There are reports of widespread depression among children and elevated levels of stress and desperation with some children even reporting suicidal thoughts

Both Fort Bliss and the administration are on the wrong side of history. President Biden’s administration has been silent on the conditions immigrant children are being forced to endure at emergency intake and influx sites. Emergency intake and influx sites, unlike licensed facilities managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), are subject to fewer regulations and oversight requirements, making them especially prone to abuse. While higher standards are no guarantee of appropriate care, the lack of standards at influx and intake sites is already leading to horrific consequences. Advocates plan to hold rallies and protests at Fort Bliss until all children being detained are released and this egregious practice is ended.

About 100 people attended the rally, held by the following groups: Border Network for Human Rights, Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention, Coalition to End Child Detention-El Paso, Tsuru for Solidarity, Detention Watch Network, United We Dream, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, RITA-Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, Mano Amiga and others.

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Here are quotes from the news conference:

Jennifer Apodaca, organizer with the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, said: “The reality is that detention is cruel and inhumane, for anyone and for any period of time they spend in these sites. The Biden administration promised to end child detention and reunite families— he has failed miserably. The abuse that I often witness in ICE processing centers for adults is the same or worse at Ft. Bliss, the shocking part is that it only took a few weeks for Ft. Bliss to experience abuse. With wide documented evidence and whistleblower reports, Ft. Bliss is a symbol of everything that is wrong with detention, it must be shut down now!”

Chizu Omori, 91-year-old Japanese American survivor of U.S. concentration camps and member of Tsuru For Solidarity: “I spent three and a half years of my childhood in a U.S. concentration camp during WWII and know how the violence of incarceration and family separation leads to lasting trauma, heartache, and destruction of community. We won’t remain silent as the U.S. government repeats this shameful history by using Fort Bliss – a former WWII camp for Japanese Americans – to inflict harm on immigrant communities. Enough is enough. These sites must be shut down, not renamed and recycled.”

Fernando García, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), said: “The unaccompanied children being held captive in the unsanitary and unsafe conditions at Fort Bliss must be released immediately and the facility should be shut down to prevent this injustice from happening again. There is no excuse for jailing kids. Vulnerable children need their families and they should be reunited with the people who love and care for them. We must continue to pursue the demilitarization of our border and demand inclusive immigration reform that invests in Welcoming Centers and recognizes the U.S.-Mexico border as the New Ellis Island and a reflection of our hopes and aspirations for the country’s future.”

Cynthia Garcia, National Campaigns Manager for Community Protection of United We Dream, said: “Fort Bliss symbolizes our nation’s shameful history with detention and family separation – going back to the internment of Japanese Americans. Over the past few weeks there have been shocking reports of the conditions of children detained at Fort Bliss. When Trump announced plans to detain children at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, another army base with a similar history to Fort Bliss, I was part of hundreds of immigrant youth, organizers, and allies who took action in July of 2019 to get it shut down. The unfortunate reality is that the cruelty did not stop with Trump. In addition to the children and youth detained at Fort Bliss, the detention and deportation force continues to grow under President Biden – with the number of people in ICE detention doubling in the four months since President Biden’s taken office. The Biden administration has the responsibility to deliver on their promise to create a humane and welcoming system for all immigrants, that’s why we are demanding they close Fort Bliss and all other so-called Emergency Intake Sites immediately.”

Liz Castillo, Organizer with Detention Watch Network, said: “When children are held in mass-scale, restrictive, settings without access to trauma-informed individualized care, this is detention, not shelter. Whether children or adults, no one is safe in detention. With widespread abuse and documented negligence, Ft. Bliss is emblematic of everything wrong with child detention. We echo local demands to immediately stop holding children at Ft. Bliss and also urge the administration to phase out all existing ‘emergency intake’ and ‘influx’ facilities. This moment is a call to action, urging us to abandon dangerous and failed approaches to prioritize reunification and systemic demands rooted in child welfare principles.”

Guerline Jozef, Executive Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said: “The continued detention of children at Ft. Bliss and so many camps around these United States is proof that we must dismantle all structures that inflict trauma and pain to the children seeking refuge. As I listened to the stories of survivors of WWII camps for Japanese Americans, it is outrageous to see how these sites are still in existence. We stand in solidarity with local demands to immediately stop holding children at Ft. Bliss, welcome them with dignity and immediately reunify them with their families and sponsors.”