Protesters chant “free the children” outside Fort Bliss

Adriana Cadena, the managing director for Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, calls on Fort Bliss to close the emergency intake shelter where more than 4,000 migrant children who arrived unaccompanied at the Southwestern border are being housed.

Anthony Jackson

El Paso Times

El Paso border groups called for an end to migrant children being housed at emergency intake shelters at Fort Bliss during a protest Tuesday night.

The demonstration was at a city of El Paso Park outside the Army post, where more than 4,000 children who arrived at the Southwest border without a parent or legal guardian are being held in shelters as they wait to receive a sponsor in the U.S.

Children ages 13 to 17 are being temporarily housed, but shelter conditions have been inadequate, with reported COVID-19 infections, lice and other disease outbreaks.

“We’re here today to denounce the conditions of the children inside the U.S. military base,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director for the Border Network for Human Rights.

More than 40 protesters held signs and chanted, “Free the children.”

In May, when the El Paso Times asked U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about conditions at the shelters, he said the operation was “showing real progress.”

“Health and Human Services is going to do what we are legally and morally obligated to do, and that is provide that safe and healthy environment for these kids,” Becerra said.

On Tuesday, after speakers from the Border Network for Human Rights, the Coalition to End Child Detention in El Paso and Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance addressed the crowd, protesters held a banner in front of southbound U.S. 54. In block letters, the banner read: “Free our children.”

Diana Martinez, the co-founder of the Coalition to End Child Detention, said she hopes to see more people protesting the conditions at the shelters.

“Bring yourself back to a situation where you feel like you don’t know where the end is,” Martinez said. “Connect to that feeling. That’s where those children are.”

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