It’s supposed to be a temporary shelter for children but life in the largest licensed child care facility in the nation looks more like incarceration. The facility is a former Walmart converted for children brought into the U.S. illegally. It currently is home to about 1,500 boys ranging in age from 10 to 17 years.
According to NBC News, the first news organization to visit the overcrowded facility which is called “Casa Padre” the boys spend 22 hours per day during the week locked inside the building. Some of the children crossed into the United States without any adult accompanying them. Others are the ones who have been separated from their parents under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new zero-tolerance policy.
Currently the facility is very overcrowded and this is expected to get worse as the new policies take effect. It is now home to about 25% more children than it was designed to hold. The converted former Walmart has rooms for the boys but five are living in rooms that were built to hold only four. The ACLU has sued the government for the new immigration policy which forcibly separates migrant children from their parents at the border.
The average stay at “Casa Padre” (which is in Brownsville, Texas) is 52 days, or nearly two months. After they leave the children are placed by government workers into homes with temporary foster parents called “sponsors.”
The workers in charge of the facility told NBC that the Department of Justice did not give them advance notice of their new policies which has led to the overcrowding. Sessions recently announced the new policy of arresting and prosecuting 100 percent of immigrants crossing into the United States without proper documentation. The children who are arrested with their parents are in all cases now immediately separated from their parents who have been arrested, incarcerated, and referred for criminal prosecution.
As might be expected, these new policies and enforcement practices have resulted in a large increase in the number of children being held in the detention facility. Because it is so far above its legal capacity, government officials are now planning to open temporary tent cities throughout Texas and possibly in other states.
Dr. Juan Sanchez, the president of the nonprofit that operates the facility, said that these new makeshift locations will not have to be licensed and they will be staffed by untrained workers. He said that if the new detention shelters for children are established on federal land, which the Trump administration has been considering, then they don’t have to be either licensed or staffed by trained child welfare professionals.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services currently houses nearly 12,000 immigrant children and is investigating new locations such as U.S. Air Force bases to house the large influx of new detained children which has been caused by the DOJ’s new policies.
Casa Padre is the facility where Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was turned away from earlier this month after he came unannounced and said he wanted to enter the building to inspect living conditions.
According to NBC, the reception area of the building has a note hanging on the wall which directs facility employees to “Immediately notify PD,” or the police department, if approached by the media.
Journalists who toured the building also reported that inside is a mural painted on a wall with a quote from President Barack Obama. It reads: “We are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”