Thousands of migrant kids are living in Texas shelters

Number of unaccompanied migrant children held in Texas

For the fourth month in a row, the number of migrant children in Texas shelters decreased in September.

These shelters are where some unaccompanied minors go after leaving temporary U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities if officials cannot find U.S.-based sponsors to take them in. The shelters are run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and regulated by the state.

As of Sept. 19, Texas’ 35 state-licensed shelters had permission to accommodate up to 5,812 children, according to the health commission. With 2,838 kids living in them, they’re at 49% of capacity.

Southwest Key, a nonprofit shelter operator that houses the largest share of migrant children in Texas, told state regulators that it is shutting down its Conroe shelter, the second facility to close in recent months. Meanwhile, a for-profit, Florida-based shelter operator, Comprehensive Health Services, is seeking permission to expand its network of Texas facilities for child migrants, as is the nonprofit Upbring, formerly known as Lutheran Social Services of the South.

As of September, at least 2,838 unaccompanied migrant children lived in 35 shelters across Texas.

Shelters are meant to serve as temporary homes for children after they arrive in the U.S., typically without adults. Despite the recent decrease, the number of children held in shelters across the country has increased dramatically since last summer. It’s unclear how much of the surge can be attributed to a greater number of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and how much is the result of federal policies that have slowed the rate at which children are paired with sponsors.

According to the federal government, some of the children have been released sooner than anticipated because, in late December, the administration ended a portion of its strict screening policies that had slowed the placement of migrant kids with relatives.

Throughout 2018, detention shelters asked regulators for permission to add more beds as the number of children in their care ballooned. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission decides whether shelters get a capacity variance, which allows them to house more children.

Those shelters, licensed as child care providers, have a long history of regulatory inspections that have uncovered serious health and safety deficiencies.

A Texas Tribune review of state records found that, between 2016 and 2019, inspectors discovered more than 552 health and safety violations at the facilities, which can each house anywhere from 20 to 1,200 children at a time.

The facilities’ inspection reports, though often light on details, paint a picture of the abuses that young children may face in a foreign environment where many have language barriers and a history of trauma from the journey to the U.S.

Counts of children on this page are current as of September 2019, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Southwest Key Programs Inc.

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $2.04 billion

Number of unaccompanied migrant children held in Texas

Southwest Key Programs, the private contractor operating a converted Walmart in Brownsville as a shelter for up to 1,200 children, is the largest operation in Texas authorized to take in children separated from their parents. Founded in 1987, the nonprofit says its mission is to “provide quality education, safe shelter and alternatives to incarceration for thousands of youth each day.”

Inspectors found at least 310 violations at the group’s 15 facilities in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 3,600 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
Southwest Key - Casa PadreBrownsville49378
Southwest Key - El PresidenteBrownsville45161
Southwest Key - Casa Rio GrandeSan Benito20148
Southwest Key - Nueva EsperanzaBrownsville30129
Southwest Key - Casa QuetzalHouston34109
Southwest Key - Casa MontezumaChannelview23100
Southwest Key - Casa AntiguaSan Benito2492
Southwest Key - Casita Del ValleClint274
Southwest Key - Shelter Care ProgramCanutillo369
Southwest Key - Casa SunzalHouston267
Southwest Key - La EsperanzaBrownsville2457
Southwest Key - Casa HoustonHouston1347
Southwest Key - Casa FranklinEl Paso541
Southwest Key - Casa BlancaSan Antonio1934
Southwest KeyHouston1720

BCFS Health and Human Services

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $1.57 million

Number of unaccompanied migrant children held in Texas

BCFS Health and Human Services is the second-largest contractor operating in Texas. The group operates six facilities that may accept migrant children. It ran the now-closed temporary Tornillo shelter. The group was founded in 1944, according to its website.

Inspectors found at least 80 violations at the group’s seven facilities in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 1,093 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
BCFS International Children's ShelterHarlingen20320
BCFS Health and Human Services, Emergency ShelterDriscoll12145
BCFS HHS International Children's ServicesBaytown6111
BCFS Region Children's Assessment CenterSan Antonio3096
BCFS HHS International Children's Services Emergency ShelterSan Antonio732
BCFS HHS International Children’s Services Emergency ShelterRaymondville130
Baptist Child and Home MinistriesSan Antonio423

Comprehensive Health Services

A group called CHSI last year opened three shelters — two in Los Fresnos and one in San Benito — to care for unaccompanied boys and girls up to 17 years old or as young as infants. The name refers to Comprehensive Health Services, a Florida-based company that has previously received contracts from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. It has applied to open a third Los Fresnos facility, state records show.

Inspectors found at least 29 violations at the group’s four facilities in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 706 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
CHSI Norma Linda ShelterLos Fresnos11165
CHSI Los Fresnos ShelterLos Fresnos390
CHSI San Benito ShelterSan Benito1570
CHSI Stanford House ShelterLos Fresnos0

Upbring

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $157.97 million

Upbring operates two facilities that accept unaccompanied minors and children separated from their parents by immigration authorities. The company was previously known as Lutheran Social Services of the South. It has applied to open a third facility in McAllen, state records show.

Inspectors found at least 43 violations at the group’s three facilities in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 170 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
Bokenkamp (Lutheran Social Services)Corpus Christi2780
Lutheran Social Services of the South (New Hope)McAllen1627
Lutheran Social Services of the South (Grace House)McAllen0

Catholic Charities

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $69.61 million

Catholic Charities, which has worked with the federal government to resettle refugees since at least 1983, operates three shelters for unaccompanied children through its branch at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Inspectors found at least 25 violations at the group’s three facilities in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 80 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
St. Michaels Home for Children IIHouston514
St. Michaels Home for ChildrenHouston1813
Assessment Center of Tarrant CountyFort Worth212

St. Peter St. Joseph Children's Home

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $42.29 million

St. Peter St. Joseph Children’s Home, which began as an orphanage in 1891, according to its website, operates an emergency shelter in San Antonio with a contract to house unaccompanied migrant children.

Inspectors found at least 36 violations at the group’s facility in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 82 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
St Peter - St Joseph Children's Home Emergency ShelterSan Antonio3646

Shiloh Treatment Center Inc.

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $32.52 million

Shiloh Treatment Center Inc. was first incorporated in 1995, according to the Houston Chronicle. It first began receiving federal funding to house migrant children in 2013. It has been dogged by allegations of abuse following the 2001 death of 16-year-old Stephanie Duffield at the center after she was restrained by staff, but the treatment center has been found to be in compliance with state requirements. Shiloh did not respond to a request for comment.

Inspectors found at least eight violations at the group’s facility in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 44 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
Shiloh Treatment CenterManvel815

Seton Home

Federal funding received for shelter operations in all states in fiscal years 2017-19: $21.52 million

Seton Home, which opened in 1981, according to its website, operates a facility in San Antonio.

Inspectors found at least 21 violations at the group’s facility in the last three years, records show. They have capacity for 37 children.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 19)
Seton HomeSan Antonio2123

Chris Essig, Elbert Wang, Paul Cobler, Annie Daniel, Julián Aguilar, Stephanie Adeline and Mandi Cai contributed to this report.