Deniz Cam, Forbes Staff
Anticipating an increase in the number of migrant children in federal custody, the U.S. government opened its second temporary influx shelter on June 30 in Carrizo Springs, Texas, a small town an hour away from the border. A day later, it invited a group of journalists to come check out the new and well-equipped facilities. “We’ll be happy when we close it,” HHS spokesperson Mark Weber told about a dozen reporters on July 10 in an air-conditioned construction trailer at the Carrizo Springs shelter, decorated with crafts by migrant children.
It seems he got his wish. Less than a month after it opened, the federal government has decided to shut it down due to fewer minors under its care, as initially reported by Vice News. Forbes confirmed with a source close to the shelter that it is closing as early as this weekend. At the time of the tour, 232 children—primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—stayed at the Carrizo Springs temporary influx shelter. That number fell to 122 children in less than two weeks, according to a federal press release dated July 22.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the federal shelter network, refused to comment. A spokesperson for BCFS, the San Antonio-based nonprofit running the shelter, referred Forbes to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, for an official statement on the imminent shutdown of Carrizo Springs.
“The closure of the Carrizo Springs facility makes clear the crisis of the government’s own making: these temporary emergency facilities arose because of the government’s deliberate policy to punish children, resulting in the prolonged and indefinite detention of thousands of children,” said Denise Bell, the Researcher for Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International USA, in a statement on Thursday. “Temporary emergency shelters are never a home for children, and Carrizo and other detention facilities like it only demonstrate that these disastrous policies only endanger children, and are never, ever, in the best interests of the child.”
Just over a month ago, HHS paid $8.8 million to lease the then unused facility for five years. It had been sitting empty since 2016 when Stratton Oilfield Systems, a subsidiary of a South Carolina-based leasing company called Stratton Securities, shut down what had been housing for temporary oil workers. Its founder and owner Daniel Stratton suggested turning the camp into a detention center that same year but his suggestion was turned down by the town, and the Studios remained unoccupied until last June. There was little to no resistance to a migrant shelter in 2019, Forbes reported earlier this month. Stratton could not be reached for comment.
Since July, BCFS has been employing over 700 people at the Carrizo Springs shelter and charging the government $750 to $800 per child per day, according to its chief executive, Kevin Dinnin. The nonprofit could have made up to $308 million through January 2020 based on its agreement with HHS, but the shelter was never filled to maximum capacity. According to Forbes’ estimates, BCFS made perhaps $5 million at the site.
The federal government has been under scrutiny for its treatment of migrant youth. Last month, a border facility in Clint, Texas—which is under the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection—came under intense scrutiny after reports revealed that children did not have access to enough water, food and proper sanitation. Another explosive report by NBC News in early July described a dire situation at a border facility in Arizona where children alleged sexual assault and retaliation from border patrol agents, including being forced to sleep on hard concrete. On July 18, Amnesty International released a report on the nation’s largest temporary influx shelter for migrant youth in Homestead, Florida, arguing that the circumstances at the shelter “violat[ed] the human rights of thousands of unaccompanied children.”
Amidst nationwide protests and a backlash from Democratic presidential candidates, the Department of Health and Human Services invited a group of journalists to the Carrizo Springs shelter—an effort to be more transparent, according to HHS spokesperson Weber. Forbes visited the facility on July 10, ten days after it opened. During the trip, reporters were allowed into mostly empty dormitories for girls and boys, an extensive medical tent, multiple classrooms, call centers for children, and a dining hall. While reporters were allowed to chat with the children, the amount of interaction was limited to basic questions such as “How are you?” When Forbes asked why the same level of transparency has not been granted at the Homestead temporary shelter, Weber did not give a direct answer.
Yet, he told reporters during the July 10 tour: “We have no desire to accumulate more children.”