Number of migrant children in Texas shelters reaches new high despite end of "zero tolerance"

Number of unaccompanied migrant children held in Texas

The number of unaccompanied minor children held in Texas shelters reached a new high in September, months after the administration of President Donald Trump ended its policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.

There were 5,099 children living at privately run shelters for unaccompanied youth as of Sept. 20, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which regulates the federally funded shelters. That’s a record high under the Trump administration, up from 4,936 children last month.

Asked to explain the increase, an agency spokeswoman directed questions to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Officials there did not immediately respond to an email.

On Sept. 20, more than 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children lived in 30 shelters across Texas.

Ft. Worth

16 children in

one shelter

El Paso area

203 children in

three shelters

Houston area

1,027 children in

nine shelters

San Antonio

398 children in

six shelters

Children in

Texas shelters

by city

Corpus Christi

106 children in

one shelter

Fewer

than 20

Over

2,000

Brownsville area

3,349 children in 10 shelters

Source: Texas Health and Human Services Commission

On Sept. 20, more than 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children lived in 30 shelters across Texas.

Children in Texas shelters by city

Fewer

than 20

Over

2,000

Brownsville area

3,349 children in 10 shelters

Source: Texas Health and Human Services Commission

On Sept. 20, more than 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children lived in 30 shelters across Texas.

Ft. Worth

16 children in

one shelter

El Paso area

203 children in

three shelters

Houston area

1,027 children in

nine shelters

San Antonio

398 children in

six shelters

Children in

Texas shelters

by city

Corpus Christi

106 children in

one shelter

Fewer

than 20

Over

2,000

Brownsville area

3,349 children in

10 shelters

Source: Texas Health and Human Services Commission

Shelters are meant to serve as a temporary home for children after they arrive in the U.S., typically without an adult, before they can be placed with U.S.-based sponsors such as family or friends. It’s unclear how much of increase 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.

Most of the children arrived in the U.S. unaccompanied, but across the country there remain more than 400 children who were separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s now-paused “zero tolerance” policy. The federal government classifies those children as “unaccompanied,” so the data cannot answer how many of them are currently living in Texas shelters.

In April, after the U.S. Department of Justice first made public its hardline policy of detaining unauthorized adult immigrants — while their children were sent to private shelters — more than 2,000 children arrived at the more than 30 shelters licensed in Texas.

The policy sent a massive influx of children to shelters, which swelled to capacity, and private groups filed permits to open four new facilities in Texas. The Health and Human Services Commission issued initial permits for three of those shelters, which will be located in South Texas and operated by Florida-based Comprehensive Health Services Inc., in August. A fourth facility, proposed to be opened in Houston by the nonprofit Southwest Key, is at the center of a lawsuit in which shelter operators allege the city has obstructed their efforts.

Even after zero tolerance ended, the number of children living in shelters has remained high. Many existing facilities have asked regulators for permission to add more beds. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission may decide to grant shelters a capacity variance, which allows them to house more children than they would otherwise be allowed to.

State officials have so far approved 16 facilities to increase their number of beds. As of September 20, there are 5,099 children in state-licensed shelters, which have permission to accommodate up to 5,489 children, according to the health commission. That puts overall capacity at about 93 percent.

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, over the last three years, inspectors have found 435 health and safety violations at the facilities, which can house anywhere from 20 to more than 1,500 children at a time. Of those, regulators coded 139 violations as “high” in severity and 166 as “medium high.”

The facilities are required to provide basic care to the children of detained migrants, including medical care and at least six hours of daily schooling. Their inspection reports, though often light on details, paint a picture of the abuses that young children may face in a foreign environment where many face language barriers and a history of trauma from the journey to the U.S.

Another shelter, a hastily built tent city in Tornillo, is being greatly expanded to handle the influx of children. Officials this month said the facility will grow to 3,800 beds— more than 10 times its original capacity to house 360 children. But that facility, a federal installation overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is not regulated by the state, officials said, so it is not reflected in the data.

Counts of children on this page are current as of September 2018, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Southwest Key Programs Inc.

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $204.5 million

Number of unaccompanied migrant children held in Texas

Southwest Key Programs, the private contractor operating a converted Walmart in Brownsville as a shelter for more than 1,500 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 246 violations at the group’s 16 facilities in the last three years, records show. On Oct. 11, 2017, at a Southwest Key facility in San Benito, an employee appeared drunk when he showed up to work. A drug test later found the employee was over the legal alcohol limit to drive. Inspectors also found shampoo dispensers filled with hand sanitizer and bananas that had turned black. In two instances, children were made to wait before receiving medical care: three days for a child with a broken wrist, and two weeks for a child with a sexually transmitted disease.

A spokesman for Southwest Key said the organization had worked to correct the problems identified by regulators. Of the list of violations, spokesman Jeff Eller said: "While it's not inaccurate, it's grossly unfair to say that without acknowledging that we acknowledged our mistakes and made immediate corrections."

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
Southwest Key - Casa PadreBrownsville131,386
Southwest Key - El PresidenteBrownsville13352
Southwest Key - Nueva EsperanzaBrownsville43277
Southwest Key - Casa AntiguaSan Benito23271
Southwest Key - Casa QuetzalHouston23256
Southwest Key - Casa Rio GrandeSan Benito20226
Southwest KeyConroe15198
Southwest Key - Casa MontezumaChannelview17183
Southwest Key - La EsperanzaBrownsville1687
Southwest Key - Shelter Care ProgramCanutillo380
Southwest Key - CombesHarlingen1076
Southwest Key - Casita Del ValleClint270
Southwest Key - Casa HoustonHouston1168
Southwest Key - Casa FranklinEl Paso1153
Southwest Key - Casa BlancaSan Antonio1251
Southwest KeyHouston1445
Totals:2463,679

BCFS Health and Human Services

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $49 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 was founded in 1944, according to its website.

At a Harlingen facility owned by BCFS, employees were alleged to have struck up “inappropriate relationships” with children in their care. Children complained of raw and undercooked food, and one child in late 2016 suffered an allergic reaction after a staff member gave the child a snack.

In San Antonio, at another BCFS facility, a staff member last April helped arrange for a child’s family member to send the child money — but when the cash arrived, the staff member kept it. The year before, an employee gave children “inappropriate magazine pages” that depicted naked women, while a few months before, staff members were found to have failed to supervise their wards closely enough to prevent one child from “inappropriately” touching two others.

Reached by phone, a receptionist for BCFS Health and Human Services said she had been told to direct reporters’ questions to federal officials at the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
BCFS International Children's ShelterHarlingen23569
BCFS HHS International Children's ServicesBaytown1208
BCFS Region Children's Assessment CenterSan Antonio19133
BCFS HHS International Children's Services Emergency ShelterSan Antonio679
BCFS HHS International Children’s Services Emergency ShelterRaymondville245
Baptist Child and Home MinistriesSan Antonio122
Totals:521,056

Upbring

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $9.4 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.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
Bokenkamp (Lutheran Social Services)Corpus Christi25106
Lutheran Social Services of the South (New Hope)McAllen1260
Totals:37166

Catholic Charities

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $3.3 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.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
St. Michaels Home for ChildrenHouston432
St. Michaels Home for Children IIHouston518
Assessment Center of Tarrant CountyFort Worth416
Totals:1366

St. Peter St. Joseph Children's Home

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $3.2 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.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
St Peter - St Joseph Children's Home Emergency ShelterSan Antonio1781

Shiloh Treatment Center Inc.

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $2.6 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 Stephanie Duffield, 16, 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.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
Shiloh Treatment CenterManvel819

Seton Home

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $1.5 million

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

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
Seton HomeSan Antonio1832

The Children's Center Inc.

Federal funding received in 2018 budget year so far: $0

The Children’s Center Inc., based in Galveston, does not currently accept federal funds to care for unaccompanied minors, but it is licensed to serve up to 32 children, according to state regulators.

FacilityCityViolations in
past 3 years
Unaccompanied children
(As of Sept. 20)
Galveston Multicultural InstituteGalveston60

Paul Cobler, Annie Daniel and Chris Essig contributed research.

Disclosure: Jeff Eller, a communications adviser to Southwest Key, is a donor and former board member of The Texas Tribune. Upbring has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. View a complete list.