A look inside the converted Walmart that shelters over 1,400 migrant children as detentions boom
In Brownsville, Texas, an old Walmart sits along the Mexican border. Today, it has been transformed into a safe haven, a lively city, and a home called “Casa Padre” for over 1,400 immigrant children.
On June 3rd, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D) came to visit the converted shelter. The present supervisor asked Senator Merkley to leave and called local police on him. This sparked a fierce social media storm. Federal authorities decided to allow a small group of reporters into the shelter.
Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, migrant children are forcibly removed from their parents. Casa Padre houses about 5% of these children. However, the majority of Casa Padre’s population are older kids and teenagers who attempted to cross the border.
Migrant children are presenting an internal problem with the criminal prosecution of all who cross the border illegally. Young children are quickly becoming residents of detention centers and prison-wardens of the state. They are also struggling with the trauma of unexpected family separation and long migration journeys.
The Washington Post reports Southwest Key Programs is the nonprofit organization that runs Casa Padre under a federal contract. Currently, they host over 5,120 migrant children in a couple of states. Many facilities are reaching capacity.
Juan Sanches, the nonprofit’s executive, says, “We’re trying to do the best that we can, taking care of these children. Our goal ultimately is to reunite kids with their families… We’re not a detention center… What we operate are shelters that take care of kids. It’s a big, big difference.”
Many immigration advocates criticised the federal government’s separation policy and worried about the treatment and care the children are subject to. Every day, Casa Padre takes in kids sent from the border by the federal government. The children are put in a 72-hour “intake” period where they are vaccinated.
While federal officials refused requests to interview both employees and children, a Washington Post reporter was able to interview a 17-year-old Honduran child, Jairom. He had escaped domestic abuse and crossed the border.
“They gave us a bit of bread, a nasty egg and some beans and an apple and some milk,” he said. “Everyone complained about the food.”
While Casa Padre is lacking in particular facilities such as a playing field to fit all the boys, Jairom shares that it is better than his journey.