Lawmakers concerned by lowered background check requirements for Tornillo staff

Lawmakers concerned by lowered background check requirements for Tornillo staff

Excerpted from a Texas Standard blog by Becky Fogel

Several Texas lawmakers are raising concerns about the safety of migrant children detained in the Tornillo tent city in West Texas.

An Associated Press investigation released this week revealed the Trump administration waived rigorous FBI fingerprint background checks for the 2,100 staff working at the shelter.

In the wake of that finding, Republican congressman Will Hurd released a statement calling the problems in Tornillo “shameful.” He represents the state’s 23rd congressional district which stretches from San Antonio to West Texas. Hurd also added, “detaining kids in Tornillo is the most expensive and least effective policy approach that fails to address root causes of migration flows or make anyone safer.”

Democratic State Rep. Mary Gonzalez represents the Texas House district where the temporary shelter is located. She notes families of these immigrant youth have to undergo lengthy fingerprint background checks to be reunited with them.

“But we are allowing [the children] to stay with individuals who are strangers who don’t have to go through the same screening that their own families have to go through, so the whole situation is completely ironic,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez says she’s been worried about the lack of transparency at this site since it was first established in June 2018.

“So, we heard when it was initially established it was only for 300 kids, for 30 days,” Gonzalez says. “Now we’re at over 2,000 kids indefinitely. So for me, what’s really important is that when you keep changing the game, it’s really hard to maintain transparency and accountability.”

Gonzalez, and fellow Democratic state lawmakers plan to fight for more oversight of these kinds of facilities when the Texas legislative session begins in January.

“So first we want to strengthen the already oversight we have with state facilities. That’s the first step,” Gonzalez says. “The second step is clarifying state law that says even if you’re on federal land, you’re still mandated to be a state licensed facility.”

Because the Tornillo facility is on federal land, it’s not currently subject to state inspections. But Gonzalez adds there are over 5,000 other migrant kids detained in state-licensed facilities in Texas.

“When this issue initially arose, there were hundreds of thousands of people who were outraged and who were rallying and writing their congressmen and congresswomen to change this scenario and I want the public to be reengaged in this conversation because there are still thousands of kids who are separated from their families in our own state,” Gonzalez says.

The current contract for the Tornillo shelter runs through the end of December.

 

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