A new facility to house and care for unaccompanied children (UAC) who have crossed the U.S. border is scheduled to be built in the Montana Vista area of El Paso.
Caliburn International, a government contractor who provides services in the national defense, healthcare, and homeland security sectors, says the new facility will include classrooms, dining areas, counseling, and medical facilities.
Operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the 25-acre child migrant housing center will also include permanent structures with 512 beds and cottages that revolve around a recreational area complete with soccer fields and playgrounds for the children housed there.
Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, adults found crossing the border illegally are subject to apprehension while the children traveling with them are placed in the care of HHS, leading to an increase in the number of children separated from their families at the border.
The practice of separating families, however, has deeper roots dating back to previous administrations. The Obama administration, in particular, instituted an expansion of the Flores Settlement Agreement in 2015, which essentially required families to be separated once detained.
While the Flores Settlement Agreement in its original form limited the amount of time UACs could be held in detention to 20 days, the 2015 expansion of the Flores rule made it applicable to accompanied children as well, leading to a dramatic spike in family separation practices at the border, as children are required to be released even if their parents are detained.
According to a statement from Caliburn International, the number one priority of the company “as a shelter operator for Office of Refugee Resettlement is to unify children with their parents, relatives or other suitable sponsors as swiftly as possible.”
Similar sentiments were also issued by HHS who says, “As soon as children enter ORR care, they are put in contact with their parents, guardians or relatives and the process of finding a suitable sponsor begins.”
In Fiscal Year 2019, more than 76,000 UACs were apprehended at the southern border compared to just over 50,000 in Fiscal Year 2018. El Paso recorded the second-highest level of UAC apprehensions, behind only the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas.
El Paso, specifically, reported more than 16,000 UAC apprehensions in FY 2019 compared to nearly 5,000 in FY 2018, reflecting an increase of 196 percent in just one year.
At a national level, HHS has worked to reduce the length of time children are held in their care, shortening the number of days from 93 in November 2018 to 50 in August 2019, while also saying the department is “working to further reduce length of care in ways that do not jeopardize the safety or welfare of the children.”
Earlier this year, a similar facility run by Caliburn International announced plans to reduce its capacity from 2,700 to 1,200 in Homestead, Florida following criticism from some lawmakers and advocates who claimed the living conditions for migrant children to be unfavorable.
A completion date for the new facility has yet to be announced, though Caliburn International is currently seeking social workers, administrative staff, and other personnel for employment at the new facility.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.