AUSTIN – No more migrant children were being held at the temporary tent shelter at the Tornillo port of entry as of Friday morning, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
All children who were at the Texas shelter have been released to sponsors or transferred to other shelters, said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families.
"Operations at Tornillo will be ongoing to appropriately and adequately continue the path towards closure," Johnson said in a statement.
Federal officials had been working since early this month to close the shelter as quickly but as safely as possible. There were still 850 children at the shelter as of Monday night.
The facility at the U.S.-Mexico border opened in June as the federal government handled an influx of children entering custody after being separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
What started as an operation large enough to hold more than 300 children grew quickly and housed as many as 2,700 children in the middle of December. Those children were not among those separated from their parents, but minors who were apprehended attempting to cross the border without a guardian.
Republican Rep. Will Hurd, whose district includes parts of far East El Paso County, first announced the shelter's impending closure after speaking with management officials in Tornillo.
"This tent city should never have stood in the first place but it is welcome news that it will be gone," Hurd wrote on Twitter.
BREAKING: I just talked with the management at the Tornillo facility - the last kid just left. This tent city should never have stood in the first place but it is welcome news that it will be gone.— Rep. Will Hurd (@HurdOnTheHill) January 11, 2019
Opponents of the facility celebrated news of its closure Friday.
Beto O'Rourke, El Paso's former Democratic congressman, applauded those who joined his protest in Tornillo last year against the facility and family separations.
"The last child has left Tornillo," O'Rourke wrote on Twitter. "It's good for these kids and their families. And it shows the power of people who showed up for them and shared with the rest of the country that we were locking up immigrant kids for months at a time. You made this happen."
The last child has left Tornillo. It’s good for these kids and their families. And it shows the power of people who showed up for them and shared with the rest of the country that we were locking up immigrant kids for months at a time. You made this happen.— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) January 11, 2019
Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, celebrated news of the closure of what he called the "baby jail" and said officials should learn from the facility and look for alternatives to detention in the future.
"Tornillo was a symbol of this administration’s deep inhumanity as shown by their willingness to hold tens of thousands of migrant children in detention," he said in a statement. "Migrant children and families never should have been separated or held in detention. This was clear from Tornillo’s opening to its closure today."
The facility had stayed operational because the federal government was slow to place children with sponsors in the United States. Authorities pointed to a delay in FBI background checks as the primary roadblock.
The Department of Health and Human Services changed its policy in December to expedite the release of children, requiring background checks for sponsors but not from all members of a sponsor's household.
Johnson said facilities like Tornillo "are necessary for HHS to care for (children) referred to us by the Department of Homeland Security."
Follow Madlin Mekelburg on Twitter: @madlinbmek
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: No migrant children remain at Tornillo tent shelter as it heads toward closure, official says