NORTH SHORE – Sitting anonymously along the feeder road at I-10 near Beltway 8, a three story building that was once a hospital now houses over 200 children that are unaccompanied immigrants. In most cases, these young people were apprehended at the Mexican border, and detained by U.S. authorities until their disposition. This could be sending them back to their own country, or finding adult sponsors in the U.S.
On Monday, August 20 Congressman Gene Green, accompanied by State Senator Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Ana Hernandez, made an inspection tour of the facility. Green told this newspaper that he had a difficult time getting access, even though the federal government is paying for the program that supervises the children. In an earlier foray, Garcia and Hernandez had been refused admission, and blocked by armed guards from entry, as reported in this newspaper. Green said that the Southwest Key Program group, that runs the shelter, required two weeks notice and vetted those who wanted to go on the tour.
All three legislators wanted to see the facility and talked with the children, because the building is in their district, and they are ultimately responsible for its financing.
Green explained to this newspaper that the program is administered by the U. S. HHS, or Housing and Human Services administration, and Southwest Key and other groups contract with the government to care for the children until their situation can be resolved.
Green said that presently there are 206 children in the facility, boys and girls ages 12 to 16. He said they live in dormitories, one gender per floor, and occupy their time with classroom work, recreation, and relaxation. Green said that he did not observe any conditions that alarmed him, and the children seemed well taken care of.
In addition to recreation on the property, the kids are also taken to a nearby county park named Gene Green Park. This was dedicated in that name by the County Commissioner at that time, Sylvia Garcia. They also have a soccer field, and basketball court on the property, he said.
Green said that most of the children he spoke with said they came from Central American countries, namely Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Only a few were from Mexico or other countries.
Asked what he would change or improve, Green indicated the facility was acceptable as is, but the real problem was federal policy that was separating children from their parents at the border, or like these children at the North Shore shelter, incarcerating them until their cases can be heard by a federal agency in charge of their future.
Senator Garcia said, “If there is one positive to come out of President Trump’s disastrous family separation policy, it’s that it has helped shine a bright light on the treatment of immigrant children in the custody of the federal government. No longer will institutions like the Southwest Key Programs facility in Channelview operate in the shadows. While they may have blocked us from observing their operations today, we will be back again and again until we can be certain that the children in their care are being treated humanely. They may try to shut us out, but they won’t shut us up. Our voices will be heard. We demand full transparency of this operation and others like it, and insist that any child in here that has been forcibly removed from their parents be reunited with their family immediately.”
State Representative Ana Hernandez said, “The Channelview facility’s refusal to work with lawmakers and allow us entrance is a red flag and a clear signal that the safety of the children in its care is secondary to protecting the Trump Administration and its enablers from the sunlight of scrutiny. This behavior will only strengthen our commitment to the strict regulation and closure of these operations.”
“The Trump Administration’s executive actions have done nothing to end the spread of detention centers like this facility. They have only replaced baby jails with family internment camps,” Hernandez said. “These facilities are an insult to the basic principles upon which our nation was founded. The time for words ended a long time ago. Direct action is the only answer to stop the imprisoning of entire families seeking asylum from violence.”
Representative Hernandez has worked to aggressively push back against the spread of detention centers, recently writing to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to halt the licensing of such facilities under state oversight.