CARRIZO SPRINGS, Tex. – In front of the reporters in an emergency shelter for unaccompanied migrant children recently opened, the director of the outsourcing company, who could receive up to $ 300 million to manage the facility, was far to be delighted with the task that awaited him.
"I hate this mission," said Kevin Dinnin, head of health and social services BCFS, a nonprofit, based in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday. "The only reason we do it is to keep the kids out of the border patrol prison cells."
The Carrizo Springs shelter opened on June 30 to help alleviate working conditions in border patrol processing facilities, where people have recently been seen sleeping on concrete floors, often missing hot meals, showers and proper medical care. The center will accommodate up to 1,300 teenagers, but it currently has a little over 200.
Although journalists who visited the shelter on Wednesday saw the children briefly during a tightly controlled visit, the conditions at Carrizo Springs seem much better than those at the border patrol posts. Children could be seen playing football outside, attending classes in groups of 30 to 40 years old and phoning their families.
These are several dormitories, trailers and tents that once housed oil field workers. The children's works – drawings of cartoon characters, flags and paper flowers – decorated the walls of their dormitories. The floodlit football fields allow children to play at night and avoid the harsh summer heat.
The children who come to Carrizo Springs are also supposed to be the ones who have only the most basic needs and who should soon be released for adults in the United States. Children sleep on bunk beds in carpeted rooms, under the supervision of an adult 24 hours a day. The dormitories are organized into groups of 12, with a shower and toilet, as well as a kitchen. The shelter has 749 staff, including those who deal directly with children and emergency personnel. It's "more staff than we need at the moment," said Dinnin, adding that his goal is to make sure no child stays there for more than 30 days.
Mark Weber, a spokesman for the US Department of Health and Human Services, in charge of caring for unaccompanied migrant children, said the shelter had ordered nearly 200 pizzas for a party on July 4th. The two biggest complaints of children, he said, were "not enough pizza" and "not enough football time".
Dinnin and Weber agree, however, that such "emergency shelters", which have periodically opened in recent years during migrant activity peaks, are not an ideal place for children. Due to their temporary nature, federal officials have exempted the facilities from the usual requirements for child care licenses. Although the facilities are officially considered as shelters and not detention centers, they are fenced and it is almost impossible to leave them. The center of Carrizo Springs is surrounded by two barriers of barbed wire.
Surge shelters are also expensive to operate because of their large size and the speed with which they must be able to connect. The costs in Carrizo Springs, which was set up in less than a month, are around $ 750 to $ 800 per child per day, said Dinnin. BCFS will receive $ 50 million for his work in the very first few weeks, and Dinnin earns an annual salary of nearly $ 500,000, according to the latest tax reports available from the non-profit organization.
The only other active emergency shelter center in Homestead, Florida, is managed by the for-profit Comprehensive Health Services. The company recently won a $ 341 million contract for the continued operation of the facility, which recently housed more than 2,000 children. Several Democratic presidential candidates have criticized the conditions prevailing at Homestead. The company that operates it has invited members of Congress to visit the facilities and said that the well-being of the children she was attending was her "primary concern".
The huge children's shelter of the Tornillo "Tent City", managed by the BCFS until it closed in January, was also examined. Government inspectors Last fall, we found that BCFS had not conducted a background check on the FBI, nor had it requested any verification of child protection services from Tornillo staff. The inspectors also indicated that the number of clinicians in Tornillo – staff providing services such as mental health assessments and counseling – was "dangerously low". Both problems were quickly resolved, said the nonprofit group.
Dinnin has been publicly complaining for months of managing Tornillo, which opened last June with only 400 beds but then increased to 3,800. He told reporters Wednesday that his critics had probably contributed to the closure of Tornillo and that it had agreed to manage the Carrizo Springs facility only if the Government offered the public regular visits to the shelter and took other measures to enhance transparency.
The shelter, however, may be less necessary than it was a few weeks ago. Passages for migrants dropped significantly last month and, in recent days, more and more unaccompanied children have been handed over to the federal government. No child spends more than 72 hours at border patrol processing facilities, Weber said. in May, more than 1,000 children were in this situation.
Dinnin suggested this to the journalists. "They clearly needed these beds in May," he said, adding that the opening of the shelter was "too much, too late."
During the tour of the facilities, Weber diverted many questions about why he was not open earlier. He insisted that even in May, shelters open at the time had enough capacity to accommodate more children. As of June 25, the agency had close to 700 open beds in its general and emergency shelters, according to data obtained by the Washington Post.
When asked repeatedly why so many children were stranded in border patrol processing facilities, Weber referred reporters to the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the border patrol posts.
"You have to ask DHS," he says. He added that "we will wait for the next report of the OIG", referring to the Office of the Inspector General of this agency.
DHS did not respond to requests for comments on Wednesday afternoon.