The federal government will turn an apartment complex once used by oil field workers in south Texas into an emergency shelter for 1,600 migrant kids who arrive at the border without their parents. It is also looking at several military bases to house another 1,400 kids in coming weeks, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
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The new emergency shelters come amid record-high levels of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, including thousands of kids arriving each month in the hopes of meeting up with parents and other relatives already inside the U.S. The kids often spend several weeks or even months in temporary shelter before they can be placed with a sponsor.
Mark Weber, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said Friday the new emergency facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, called "The Studios" will open soon. Weber said other several other military bases remain under consideration, including Fort Sill in Oklahoma, as a way of expanding capacity by 3,000 among all the sites. There are currently some 13,000 migrant minors in HHS custody.
Democrats have criticized the facilities, which are often not subject to state child welfare licensing requirements because they are temporary emergency shelters. One such shelter, tent-like facilities in Tornillo, Texas, shuttered amid political pressure and protests and many of those kids were shuttled to Homestead in Florida.
Weber said all children sent to Carrizo Springs will reside in “hard-sided” facilities, and tent-like structures will only be used for support operations.
“Based on the anticipated growth pattern in referrals of UAC” from the Homeland Security Department to HHS, the agency “is preparing for the need for high bed capacity to continue,” Weber said.
The agency's program has come under severe financial strain in recent weeks, as Congress has yet to fulfill the Trump administration's request for $2.9 billion in emergency money to care for what the government calls "unaccompanied alien children." As a result of the influx and lack of money, HHS is canceling education and recreational services for the kids.
Some 144,000 migrants were stopped at the border in the month of May alone, including 11,000 unaccompanied minors. The numbers are stunning, considering that only 20,000 migrants were stopped in May 2017. Migration experts say the cause is a mix of poverty and gangs, as well as weather-related disasters that have wiped out farms. Officials also say people are aware that court-mandated rules have prevented the U.S. government from detaining children past 20 days.
Critics of the Trump administration say the president hasn’t helped the situation either by threatening to close the border, presenting an urgency to any would-be migrants. Trump has recently announced a plan to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it stops the migration.