Texas officials grant permission for immigrant youth shelters to operate over capacity

Texas officials grant permission for immigrant youth shelters to operate over capacity
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Officials in recent months have given the green light for more than a dozen immigrant youth shelters in Texas to hold more children than their licenses permit.

The Texas Observer, citing records it obtained, reported Tuesday that at least 15 immigrant shelters have been granted permission to exceed their child-care licenses. Two additional shelters have applications pending with the state.

The Casa Rio Grande shelter in San Benito, for example, increased its capacity from 160 to 236. Nueva Esperanza in Brownsville jumped from 200 to 295.


In total, Texas is allowing an additional 722 kids inside shelters already at their maximum capacity, a 16 percent increase, the Observer reported.

John Reynolds, a spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told the Observer that the agency reviews bedspace, recreational area and the number of children to each bathroom before allowing shelters to exceed capacity.

The move reportedly came as the Trump administration implemented its “zero-tolerance” policy for prosecuting adults who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The policy has caused an estimated 2,000 migrant children to be separated from their parents during criminal proceedings.

All of the 17 at or overcapacity shelters in Texas reviewed by the Observer are either operated by nonprofits Southwest Key Programs or BCFS Health and Human Services, according to the report.

Texas health inspectors had found nearly 150 violations at more than a dozen Southwest Key Program shelters, The Associated Press reported last week.

Violations from last year included inadequate supervision and lack of timely medical care, the AP reported. Children were also given medications they were allergic to.

While the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said it reviewed conditions before allowing shelters to go overcapacity, child advocates argue the shelter staff are strained and resources are minimal.

“Child welfare is being thrown out of the window because the feds say they don’t have enough room,” said Will Francis, government relations director for the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

“It shows [the state] cares more about maintaining regulations — changing them as necessary — than actually working toward the best outcomes for kids,” he added.

Francis said shelters that were already struggling are now overcrowded with the influx of children separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s policy.

“It frustrates me that we’re willing to punt to the federal government, and say this is their policy, not ours, but we’re still willing to provide the oversight,” Francis told the Observer. “You can’t have it both ways.”

Reynolds would not comment to the newspaper on whether the zero-tolerance policy was hiking up capacity rates.