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Toxic Risks at Immigrant Detention Centers Raise Alarms

Sites at the bases have been used for munitions disposal and as firing ranges. (Sgt. Paula Taylor/Wikimedia Commons)
Sites at the bases have been used for munitions disposal and as firing ranges. (Sgt. Paula Taylor/Wikimedia Commons)
August 9, 2018

BOSTON — A coalition of immigrant, labor and environmental groups is demanding details on government plans to detain migrant families at military bases known to have toxic hazards.

On Wednesday, as the Trump administration rushed to build tent cities at two bases in Texas, the groups filed an expedited records request under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to Lisa Evans, senior counsel at the environmental law firm Earthjustice, the sites at Fort Bliss in El Paso, and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo are known to be contaminated from decades of use for munitions and hazardous-waste disposal, nuclear weapons development and military firing ranges.

"Because there are known areas of contamination on each of these bases, including multiple Superfund sites at one of the bases, it's essential that we get the information on whether those bases are safe to house families and children,” Evans said.

The FOIA request seeks information about 10 polluted sites on the two bases.

The government intends to detain more than 15,000 migrants at the sites. The total number of migrants the government wants to detain could be well over 30,000.

Though she thinks it unlikely tent cities would be located in northeastern states, Evans said anything is possible.

"The administration has moved with so little forethought in terms of how they've handled immigration,” she said; “so it is possible that they may ship people to other states farther from the border."

Evans added that the migrants include many who presented themselves at the border asking for asylum from violence in their home countries, which is a legal right.

"To round those people up and put them at risk of harm to their health by housing them in hazardous waste sites is an unconscionable act - and it's unnecessary,” she said.

The government has 10 days to state whether it will grant the request for expedited processing of the FOIA request.

More information is available at

Andrea Sears/Cynthia Howard, Public News Service - MA