Newly opened facility for migrant children expected to cost up to $300 million

Newly opened facility for migrant children expected to cost up to $300 million

A newly opened “temporary” facility to house unaccompanied migrant children could cost up to $300 million and stay open through January 2020, the Trump administration says.

The Carrizo Springs facility in Texas officially opened June 30, and currently houses about 225 children. It is eventually expected to hold up to 1,300, which would make it one of the largest facilities for unaccompanied minors in the country, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The shelter, which was formerly used as a lodging facility for oil field workers, is one of two temporary “influx” shelters, the other being the Homestead facility in Florida. That facility is the administration's largest for unaccompanied children and currently houses around 2,300 children, but the number changes daily.

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The Carrizo facility is run by the non-profit firm BCFS, which HHS will pay $50 million for its first 60 days of operation, according to recent federal filings. Supplemental funding of up to $250 million will be paid if the facility is open through Jan. 31, 2020.

BCFS has been contracted in the past, having run the now-closed Tornillo “tent city” that opened in the summer of 2018 after thousands of children were separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Federal officials say opening Carrizo and other new influx facilities will help ease the pressure on detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security near the U.S.-Mexico border, like one in Clint, Texas, that has received recent scrutiny.

Lawyers visiting the detention center in Clint reported children living in squalid conditions and being held long past the legally required 72-hour deadline. The reports have set off a firestorm of protests and triggered congressional inquiries. 

Unaccompanied children who cross the border are transferred to HHS facilities from DHS detention centers. As of June 10, DHS referred over 52,000 unaccompanied children to the HHS refugee office this fiscal year, a 60 percent increase from fiscal year 2018, the agency said.

HHS officials paint a drastically different picture of facilities like Carrizo from the DHS detention centers. While advocates and some Democratic lawmakers have referred to the facilities as prison camps, HHS says children are well cared for at the facilities.

The goal of HHS facilities, they say, is to reunite the children with a sponsor— usually a parent, guardian or relative.

As of July 8, there were about 12,500 unaccompanied children in HHS care. The agency said children are housed for an average of 45 days before sponsors are found, down from a recent high of 93 days in November 2018.

According to an agency release, the facility has direct care staff on site that are fluent in Spanish, as well as translation services for children who do not speak Spanish. 

Each child has a schedule for case management, visits with mental health clinicians, and lawyers, HHS said. Dorms are either male or female, and there is a daily schedule that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, classroom education and recreation.

Health care, mental health care and “general child welfare services” are available around the clock, the agency said.