Mi­grant shel­ters at 93% ca­pac­ity

Al­most 5,100 chil­dren are be­ing held in the Texas youth fa­cil­i­ties.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Edgar Wal­ters, Ryan Mur­phy and Darla Cameron Texas Tri­bune

The num­ber of un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nor chil­dren held in Texas shel­ters reached a new high in Septem­ber, months af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ended its pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing im­mi­grant chil­dren from their par­ents at the bor­der.

There were 5,099 chil­dren liv­ing at pri­vately run shel­ters for un­ac­com­pa­nied youth as of Sept. 20, ac­cord­ing to the Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion, which reg­u­lates the fed­er­ally funded shel­ters. That’s a record high un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, up from 4,936 chil­dren last month.

Asked to ex­plain the in­crease, an agency spokes­woman di­rected ques­tions to the U.S. Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment. Of­fi­cials there did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to an email.

Shel­ters are meant to serve as a tem­po­rary home for chil­dren af­ter they ar­rive in the U.S., typ­i­cally with­out an adult, be­fore they can be placed with U.S.-

based spon­sors such as fam­ily or friends. It’s un­clear how much of in­crease can be at­trib­uted to a greater num­ber of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren ar­riv­ing at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, and how much is the re­sult of fed­eral poli­cies that have slowed the rate at which chil­dren are paired with spon­sors.

Most of the chil­dren ar­rived in the U.S. un­ac­com­pa­nied, but across the coun­try there re­main more than 400 chil­dren who were sep­a­rated from their par­ents un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s now-paused “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment clas­si­fies those chil­dren as “un­ac­com­pa­nied,” so the data can­not an­swer how many of them are cur­rently liv­ing in Texas shel­ters.

In April, af­ter the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice first made public its hard-line pol­icy of de­tain­ing unau­tho­rized adult im­mi­grants — while their chil­dren were sent to pri­vate shel­ters — more than 2,000 chil­dren ar­rived at the more than 30 shel­ters li­censed in Texas.

The pol­icy sent a mas­sive in­flux of chil­dren to shel­ters, which swelled to ca­pac­ity, and pri­vate groups filed per­mits to open four new fa­cil­i­ties in Texas. The Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion is­sued ini­tial per­mits for three of those shel­ters, which will be lo­cated in South Texas and op­er­ated by Flor­ida-based Com­pre­hen­sive Health Ser­vices Inc., in Au­gust. A fourth fa­cil­ity, pro­posed to be opened in Hous­ton by the Austin-based non­profit South­west Key, is at the cen­ter of a law­suit in which shel­ter op­er­a­tors al­lege the city has ob­structed their ef­forts.

Even af­ter zero tol­er­ance ended, the num­ber of chil­dren liv­ing in shel­ters has re­mained high. Many ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties have asked reg­u­la­tors for per­mis­sion to add more beds. The Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion may de­cide to grant shel­ters a ca­pac­ity vari­ance, which al­lows them to house more chil­dren than they would oth­er­wise be al­lowed to.

State of­fi­cials have so far ap­proved 16 fa­cil­i­ties to in­crease their num­ber of beds. As of Sept. 20, there are 5,099 chil­dren in state-li­censed shel­ters, which have per­mis­sion to ac­com­mo­date up to 5,489 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the health com­mis­sion. That puts over­all ca­pac­ity at about 93 per­cent.

Those shel­ters, li­censed as child care providers, have a long his­tory of reg­u­la­tory in­spec­tions that have un­cov­ered se­ri­ous health and safety de­fi­cien­cies.

A Texas Tri­bune re­view of state records found that, over the last three years, in­spec­tors have found 435 health and safety vi­o­la­tions at the fa­cil­i­ties, which can house any­where from 20 to more than 1,500 chil­dren at a time. Of those, reg­u­la­tors coded 139 vi­o­la­tions as “high” in sever­ity and 166 as “medium high.”

The fa­cil­i­ties are re­quired to pro­vide ba­sic care to the chil­dren of de­tained mi­grants, in­clud­ing med­i­cal care and at least six hours of daily school­ing. Their in­spec­tion re­ports, though of­ten light on de­tails, paint a pic­ture of the abuses that young chil­dren may face in a for­eign en­vi­ron­ment where many face lan­guage bar­ri­ers and a his­tory of trauma from the jour­ney to the U.S.

An­other shel­ter, a hastily built tent city in Tornillo, is be­ing greatly ex­panded to han­dle the in­flux of chil­dren.

Of­fi­cials this month said the fa­cil­ity will grow to 3,800 beds — more than 10 times its orig­i­nal ca­pac­ity to house 360 chil­dren. But that fa­cil­ity, a fed­eral in­stal­la­tion over­seen by the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, is not reg­u­lated by the state, of­fi­cials said, so it is not re­flected in the data, which is cur­rent as of Sept. 20.

AMANDA VOISARD / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

Austin-based pri­vate con­trac­tor South­west Key Pro­grams op­er­ates Casa Padre, a con­verted Wal­mart in Brownsville, as a shel­ter for more than 1,500 un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors. South­west Key wants to open a fa­cil­ity in Hous­ton.

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