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Tent Encampment In Texas Holds Detained Immigrant Children


In the border town of Tornillo, Texas, a long white tent has been pitched in an unusual location - the international port of entry. It's right by the border. This shelter now houses around 100 detained migrant boys who were accused of crossing into the United States illegally. More boys are expected to be housed at that facility as the week goes on. From El Paso, KQED's John Sepulvado reports.

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: This white industrial tent is surrounded by barbed wire in the middle of the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Inside - 16- and 17-year-old boys, boys who, once a day, go outside to play soccer. And over the weekend, I tried to take a picture of a soccer game on an adjacent farm more than 200 yards away.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You are trespassing on private property. Law enforcement will be responding to your location.

SEPULVADO: That's as close as I got to getting comment from the federal government. Guards, gates and secrecy are keeping much of what's happening in those tents a mystery. U.S. Health and Human Services operate the facility. Customs and Border Patrol guard it. Neither agency is answering questions, and that's been frustrating for Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez, a Democrat. Without any idea of what's happening, Gonzalez says her imagination ran wild, picturing heat-exhausted toddlers living under tarps.

MARY GONZALEZ: So when I walked in, my first question is, how are the kids being treated, and what do the kids need?

SEPULVADO: And what Gonzalez found was that this long white tent has rooms, each holding 20 kids. And the tents are air conditioned.

GONZALEZ: There is medical facilities, doctors 24 hours a day. I felt the kids were at least safe.

SEPULVADO: Now Gonzalez's biggest worry is whether the kids are getting legal advice. Tornillo, Texas, is a town of dirt roads and farmland, not lawyers and investigators. Gonzalez says legal help is needed to help get these teenagers freed. And even some who can get lawyers often cannot find their parents.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

SEPULVADO: That is the hold message on a phone line for families trying to find each other. It can take as long as 12 minutes just to talk to an operator. And this whole story of separation - the tents and the legal worries and the frantic, frustrating search for family members - is driving big protests in the small town.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting, unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting, unintelligible).

SEPULVADO: Whether the teenagers in the tent could hear the emotion and anger at this protest is unknown, but it seems unlikely. That's because about 300 yards away from the tent, I heard audio of the World Cup playing from loudspeakers. The announcers, it should be noted, were speaking in English. For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICANO BATMAN'S "AREA C") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.