La Feria News

Groups Say TX Military Detention Centers Riddled with Toxic Waste

Environmental groups are concerned about the health of immigrant families being housed at detention centers on toxic-waste sites. Photo: Louise Coghill/Flickr

by Mary Kuhlman

AUSTIN, Texas – From the toxic stress of being separated from families, environmental and health advocates say they are now concerned about detained migrants being sent to two Texas military posts known to have actual radiological contaminants.

The nonprofit legal group Earthjustice filed a Freedom of Information Request Wednesday to get the Trump administration to release details about its plans to keep immigrants at Fort Bliss in El Paso and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo.

Laura Esquivel, director of national advocacy for the Hispanic Federation, says Fort Bliss, in particular, has Superfund sites that are polluted areas the federal government is supposed to be cleaning up.

“Naming bases that are actually already well known to have contaminants issues is really just indicative of their lack of planning and how they’ve approached this whole migrant situation and criminalizing immigrants,” she points out.

The Defense Department has completed legal and environmental requirements needed to create housing at Goodfellow but still needs to secure a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services before the actual construction of temporary housing or tents can begin.

Officials still are working on the legal framework for the use of Fort Bliss.

Federal officials are defending the use of the military bases, arguing the practice is in line with historical precedents for military assistance.

However Rosemary Martinez, president of the Sin Fronteras Organizing Project in El Paso, says her veteran father died due to Agent Orange and other toxic chemical exposure during his time stationed at Fort Bliss. And she adds the main concern is making sure the government isn’t putting families in harm’s way, considering that water tests last year at Fort Bliss showed it had chromium and other radiological contaminants.

“I was born into this battle that has been continuous,” says Martinez. “And we know that they have stored this nuclear waste on Fort Bliss. And El Paso military on Fort Bliss has not cleaned up the contamination; there has been no remediation in the cleanup.”

In addition to seeking information on the two bases that include former nuclear weapons storage areas, firing ranges, open burning, detonation areas and dumping sites, the groups also are hoping to learn about other sites the administration is planning to use for building other detention facilities.

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