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Closure of "Tent City" for unaccompanied migrant children delayed for second time

"Tent City" in Texas for migrant boys will remain open until at least September 13 -- two months past its initial planned closure date of July 13, CBS News has learned. The shelter houses boys who were apprehended after crossing the Mexican border, unaccompanied when crossing, or separated from adults after coming into the U.S.

The facility, which includes two rows of bunk bed-lined tents, opened on June 14 at the Tornillo Port of Entry, which is located about 39 miles south of El Paso. The shelter is intended to be temporary and was initially slated to open for just 30 days, closing on July 13. However, in early July, the nonprofit contracted to manage it was notified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that the facility would be needed for another 30 days.

A representative of BCFS, the nonprofit, told CBS News on August 7 that the Tornillo facility was still expected to close on August 13. By Friday August 10, that had changed, HHS confirmed in an email to CBS News.

"HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is continuously monitoring bed capacity available to provide shelter for minors who arrive at the U.S. border unaccompanied and are referred to HHS for care by immigration officials, as well as the information received from interagency partners, to inform any future decisions or actions," an HHS spokesperson said. "HHS will continue to assess the need for this temporary shelter at Tornillo Land Port of Entry (LPOE), Tornillo, TX, based on projected need for beds and current capacity of the program."

BCFS will continue to manage the facility, both HHS and the nonprofit confirmed.

During a press tour of the facility on June 25, the BCFS commander of the site was highly critical of the federal government's decision to open it. He said it was opened as "a direct result of the policy to separate kids by this administration," referring to the so-called "zero tolerance" policy for migrants caught crossing the border outside authorized entry points. The policy, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 6, set a goal of prosecuting 100 percent of adults caught violating immigration law — even if they needed to be separated from children they were traveling with. 

"This was a dumb, stupid decision that should've never happened," the BCFS commander told media on June 25.

A CBS News investigation revealed on July 5 that a loophole in federal policy allows the Tornillo facility and another massive temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, to escape the rigorous, often unannounced child welfare inspections that all other similar shelters operated by ORR are subjected to. 

Tornillo and Homestead are located on federal land, where state officials have no authority.  

They remain open nearly nine weeks after the federal government's "zero tolerance" immigration policy was suspended June 20 via an executive order issued by President Donald Trump, following widespread public outcry. Six days later, a federal district court judge ordered the federal government to reunite all separated children by July 26. 

Hundreds of children in federal custory remain separated from their parents, many of whom were deported.

  • Graham Kates

    Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBSNews.com.