Amid reports of poor conditions and allegations of abuse by American officials, the Obama administration announced it is designating a third military base to house children illegally entering the United States.
According to Reuters, unnamed administration officials said the third facility would be located at an Army base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and will initially house 600 children before bumping up its capacity to 1,200. Over the last few weeks, similar housing facilities have been created in California and Texas.
The announcement comes as the government struggles to deal with an overwhelming influx of undocumented children entering the United States, primarily from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Many of the children are believed to be hoping for a reunion with parents or other family relatives, but critics of the White House have blamed what they see as lax border security for the escalating situation.
Already, roughly 1,000 children are being held at a makeshift holding facility in Nogales, Arizona, where the undocumented immigrants are housed until they receive vaccinations and go through other checkpoints. After that, they are flown to other cities where they’re cases unfold and some are put through deportation procedures.
As RT reported previously, the Border Patrol in Texas found itself dealing with as many as 48,000 children crossing into the US through the Rio Grande Valley. Unable to deal with so many people locally, the Department of Homeland security transferred many to Arizona and other facilities.
As a result of these increased numbers, the Department of Health and Human Services – which takes custody of the children once they are in government hands – is requesting approximately $2 billion for fiscal year 2015 in order to deal with the situation. For the current year, HHS has been allocated about $868 million. Another $560 million will be requested by Homeland Security.
As the government moves to adapt to the situation, allegations of abuse are also surfacing from the immigrants themselves. BuzzFeed has obtained documents in which some children claim physical and verbal abuse by US officials, including one boy who said a border patrol agent kicked him in the stomach. Other accusations involve punching, verbal abuse, and the denial of medical treatment.
Although it’s unknown how many of the accusations are credible, the American Immigration Council revealed last month that between 2009 and 2012, there were 809 allegations of abuse against Border Patrol. In 97 percent of the cases, no action was taken.
In Nogales, specifically, conditions at the holding facility have come under scrutiny. Children have reportedly complained that the food being served has made them sick, and the lack of mattresses and medical supplies have made living conditions difficult. Additional showers were just recently added, which led Honduras’ consul to Arizona Tony Banegas to conclude that “conditions are improving.”
"What happened today is they added four showers,” he told local CBS 5 News. “Some of the girls were able to take their first shower in 10 days. They're planning to build 60 in the next few days."
According to the Daily Mail, a rabies outbreak has already been reported by Border Patrol, and officials in Texas are beginning to worry that other infections could spread as well. In Rio Grande, at least, the children are not being screened for diseases.
“What level of medical screening, if any, is being done is unknown,” said Zack Taylor of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers. “What the medical testing shows is likely not being shared with the agents. And, there are potential communicable diseases that the detainees will not be tested for unless individually requested by a medical officer, which is unlikely without acute symptoms.”
The situation has caused President Obama’s political opponents to blame his immigration policies, arguing that Border Patrol is failing its duty to enforce the law and encouraging human trafficking – the way many undocumented children make it onto US soil.
“This is a crisis of the federal government’s creation,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement, “and the fact that the border remains unsecure – now apparently intentionally - while this operation continues full-steam ahead is deplorable.”
For its part, the White House disputes this argument, saying that many of the minors are making their way to the US because of violence and poor living conditions in their own countries. One unnamed administration official told Reuters that if policy were solely to blame, immigrants would be coming from various other countries, too.
"If they (unaccompanied minors) are coming solely because of immigration policies, you would see large numbers from other countries (in Central America), including Mexico as well."