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New Facilities For Migrant Children Slated For Texas

Inside Casa Sunzal, an unaccompanied minor shelter run by Southwest Key.
Courtesy of Southwest Key
Inside Casa Sunzal, an unaccompanied minor shelter run by Southwest Key.

State authorities are mulling over applications for two new shelters that would hold unaccompanied migrant children. Confirmation of the new shelters comes as Southwest Key closes down two of its facilities.

Texas Health and Human Services has confirmed that applications have come in for two new shelters that would hold migrant youth who arrive at the U.S-Mexico border without a guardian.  

Two unaccompanied minor facilities are slated for the Rio Grande Valley, in McAllen and Los Fresnos. Another application, for a child placing agency, which would supervise the placement of migrant foster children, is also pending approval. That agency, operated by Foster Texas, would be in Cedar Park, north of Austin.

Lutheran Social Services of the South, Foster Texas and CHSI would operate the new facilities. 

The Los Fresnos shelter would hold children as young as infants and as old as 17, according to documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting

Confirmation of new potential shelters comes as Austin-based non-profit Southwest Key closes down two Texas facilities, one in Conroe and another in Harlingen. The federal government ended those contracts due to an unexpected loss of federal funding.”

None of the new facilities will be run by Southwest Key. 

Children have now been removed from the Conroe facility, according to an August census of all unaccompanied minor facilities in Texas. 

Kids had been removed from the Harlingen shelter by mid-July. 

The non-profit Southwest Key operates more than a third of unaccompanied minor facilities statewide through multi-million dollar federal contracts. 

The organization has been under fire for more than a year, especially after they were slated to open a shelter for children under the age of 12 in Houston during the height of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. 

That shelter, on Emancipation Avenue, is now licensed to hold 16 and 17-year-olds. 

In July, NPR reported that the federal government is requesting bids on large migrant shelters in Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Atlanta and Phoenix. The total capacity of these shelters is 2,500.

The new Houston shelter will hold 500 migrant children, according to government documents, and will be built in northwest Houston.

Some 4,300 children are currently being held in unaccompanied minor facilities statewide. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that there would be three new shelters. It has been updated to reflect that one of the three applications is for a new child placement agency which won’t directly care for migrant kids.

This story was produced by Houston Public Media.