Over the past few weeks, activists led by former border patrol agent turned refugee advocate Jenn Budd gathered at Fort Bliss military base outside El Paso, Texas, to protest the continued detention of children, many of them unaccompanied, in crowded conditions while they await asylum hearings. The protests are a continuation of direct action sparked off two summers ago by then-President Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies, which included forcing immigrants to await asylum hearings in the dangerous city of Juarez, Mexico, rather than in El Paso; separating children from their parents or guardians upon detention, while deporting 1,400 parents back to their countries of origin without their children; and holding immigrants that made it across the border in crowded, inhumane conditions that fit the historical definition of “concentration camps”—internment centers where targeted groups are detained without trial or administrative proceedings.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has rolled back some of these policies. Refugees are now allowed to remain in the U.S. while their asylum claims are processed. Trump’s cap of admitting only 15,000 refugees per year has been raised to approximately 70,000. And Biden has established a task force to reunite the remaining separated children with their families and move children out of detention into temporary housing while they await asylum hearings.
But human rights groups say there is much more to do. In particular, many of the unaccompanied children who have been moved out of detention facilities have been relocated into tent cities, where they are exposed to the elements, including blistering heat and record-breaking rain. Living conditions in these new camps are scarcely better than in the detention facilities. According to a BBC report in June, children were being fed undercooked and even raw meat and lacked clean clothes, and there were reports of sexual abuse by staff.