A Houston-area migrant center that housed hundreds of teenage girls who crossed into the United States as unaccompanied minors abruptly closed over the weekend, leading immigrant advocates to more questions than answers.
Even more surprising, the facility opened less than three weeks ago — and shuttered after one worker suddenly died.
According to KTRK-TV, a “flurry of activity” was witnessed outside the facility prior to the Department of Health and Human Services announcing the facility was being closed.
The government said the displaced girls — ages 13-17, who numbered between 450-500 at the facility — would be united with sponsors or transferred to another HHS refuge facility.
Today, HHS announced that all of the children in HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care at the Emergency Intake Site (EIS) for Unaccompanied Children at the National Association of Christian Churches site in Houston, Texas (NACC Houston) will be immediately unified with sponsors or transferred to an appropriate ORR facility.
However, the government did not provide the exact reason for the facility’s abrupt closure.
Cesar Espinosa, director of immigrant advocacy group FIEL, told the Associated Press there was an “incident” at the facility on Friday night, and police cars and ambulances were present outside the facility.
“There seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what was happening,” said Espinosa, who was reportedly provided with information by a FIEL employee. “The people that were there looked like they were in a sad stance, kind of with their head down and seemed like they were wiping tears away.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, an adult staffer for the Department of Health and Human Services died at the facility Friday night.
The HHS did not disclose additional details.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), however, claimed the worker died from a “medical emergency” that was unrelated to the migrant children and caused by underlying health conditions.
“That was the only reason that there were ambulances there the night before,” Jackson Lee said, KTRK reported.
While Espinosa expressed contentment that some of the migrant girls — about 130 in all — would be united with sponsors, he told the Chronicle, “Unfortunately at this moment we have more questions than answers.”
“If it’s shutting down, it still raises a lot of questions,” Espinosa said. “It wasn’t an appropriate place to have the young girls.”
Espinosa told ABC News that when he toured the facility he saw “desperation” in the girls’ faces.
He explained the facility was “filled just with cots, where the girls were not allowed to get up, unless it was to shower, or to use the restroom. Even their meals were delivered to their cots.”
“[The girls] were more treated like merchandise rather than treated as human beings, as people who just went through a very traumatic experience,” Espinosa explained. “I would not allow my 15-year-old sister to go and volunteer in a place like this because I don’t know what she’s going to see.”
Sources also told ABC News the girls “were at times instructed to use plastic bags for toilets.”
Author : Chris Enloe