Soon, the warehouse on the corner of Emancipation Avenue in downtown Houston will hold thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children.
Right now the space is vacant, although as the Houston Chronicle reports, it once held women and families who found themselves displaced or homeless in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
But Texas non-profit Southwest Key Programs, which obtained a “lucrative” contract with the federal government, has signed a lease for the space and, according to its application, is requesting a license to hold up to 240 children, from “0 to 17” years of age.
“Several stakeholders who work with immigrant minors said they have been told the facility would largely serve ‘tender age’ children who are younger than 12, as well as pregnant and nursing teenagers,” The Chronicle reports.
It would be the first residential center in the nation detaining such small children without their relatives or other foster parents, and advocates say it is a direct consequence of the government’s new “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute parents who cross the border illegally. By law, their children cannot be held in prison with them and are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a subset of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In the pre-Trump years, unaccompanied minors, most of whom were between the ages of 10 and 17, “were quickly released to family or other sponsors already in the country.” The Trump administration’s new policy forces children under the age of two to be separated from their parents and stuck in government custody while those adults “serve brief sentences for the misdemeanor crime before going to immigrant detention centers, and in some cases being deported without their children.”
The Trump administration has already gone ahead with plans to house immigrant children in tent cities at Tornillo Land Port of Entry. The facility, which has 450 beds, opened Friday. One hundred minors were there as of Friday afternoon.
This is all the result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for people who enter the United States illegally and people who arrive seeking asylum alike.
Where can you find a justification for these measures, which critics have decried as inhumane, morally abhorrent, obviously traumatizing to young children — literally the exact opposite of the principles upon which this nation was founded? (Has anyone in Trump’s White House ever read the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, should we tweet it to make sure POTUS sees it?)
Meanwhile, Trump had this to say about the immigration policies coming out of his own White House:
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
In the six-week stretch between mid-April, when Sessions announced the “zero-tolerance” policy, and the end of May, approximately 2,000 children were separated from their parents, according to federal officials.