Today, Earthjustice, along with Hispanic Federation, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, GreenLatinos, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, joined the growing calls for the closure of the migrant child detention center located at the Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas, due to flagrant environmental contamination in the area. In a letter submitted to federal agencies, groups expressed alarm by the growing number of reports of dangerous and unsafe conditions for children at Fort Bliss and other emergency intake shelters. They also asked for the closure of this detention center. This comes as recent news reports have detailed horrifying conditions at Fort Bliss, including contractors ill-equipped to care for children, severe emotional distress, and inhumane treatment.
“Richer countries like the United States must treat migrant children fleeing drought and food shortages, violence and poverty, with care and respect. Particularly since we know the United States, with its actions and inactions, plays a strong role in the state of the Americas,” said Mychal Ozaeta, Earthjustice senior associate attorney. “We call on the Biden administration to right the wrongs of past administrations and ensure that children are properly cared for. We also call for required environmental testing, investigation, and assessment of health risks to be completed to determine the safety of the Fort Bliss site.”
In 2017, Earthjustice sued on behalf of a coalition of six clients, including the signers of today’s letter, to get more information about the contamination at the Fort Bliss site. Earthjustice and its clients also released a report showing how the Department of Defense planned to build detention centers on or next to Superfund sites. Groups also released hundreds of searchable documents, and expert analysis of previous plans for construction of a temporary detention center for children and families at the base. These records document several problems with the project, including that the Army did not adequately investigate what types of waste had been disposed of at the site, that the methods used for testing the soil samples were inadequate or never completed, and that samples taken after the supposed clean-up still had alarming levels of pollution. Additionally, illegal dumping on the site may continue to this day. There is now even greater uncertainty about the environmental hazards at the site and a greater need for thorough testing, analysis, and cleanup.
“The United States government continues to disregard the health and safety of immigrants in their custody. No child or adult — regardless of their race, ethnicity, or immigration status — should be subjected to the despicable conditions exhibited in Fort Bliss and other migrant detention facilities across our nation,” said Laura Esquivel, vice president for federal policy and advocacy at Hispanic Federation. “We call on the Biden administration to take immediate action to end migrant detention, or risk causing irreparable harm to thousands of children and families forced to suffer the physical, mental, and emotional repercussions of being held in toxic cages away from their loved ones.”
“Migrant children deserve to be cared for with dignity and compassion. Yet, we are seeing a continuation of unconscionable conduct in their treatment,” said Mily Treviño-Sauceda with Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. “We call on the Biden-Harris administration to fulfill their legal obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of migrant children in their care and to end migrant detention centers, including those in polluted military bases.”
The United States government has shown flagrant disregard for undocumented migrants in custody, most recently including allegations of forced sterilization, the use of industrial chemical disinfectants at other migrant detention facilities, and uncontrolled outbreaks of COVID-19. These ongoing failures have created conditions that make it impossible to keep those in custody safe. We call for the immediate halt of any plans to place children in such unsafe facilities, the securing of safe and suitable housing for children while they are required to remain in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the development of solutions that do not involve placing children on or near toxic sites, military sites, or in detention-like settings.