Let's Take A Peek Inside That Migrant Kiddie Jail In The Old Walmart!
After all the bad press the government got after Senator Jeff Merkley was turned away from a shelter for migrant children in Brownsville, Texas, the Office of Refugee Resettlement -- which contracts with a nonprofit that runs the shelter -- allowed some reporters to go inside and see what's in that former Walmart Super Center with the blacked out windows. MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff and the Washington Post take us for a tour of the shelter, whose official name is "Casa Padre." Please feel free to bathe in the irony: There are no actual dads here.
It's worth noting that this is just one of many facilities that ORR runs for migrant kids; Casa Padre stores only boys aged 10 to 17, while girls and younger children are stored in different facilities, some of them run by the same nonprofit, Southwest Key, and some by different groups. Almost all of them, like Casa Padre, were originally set up to house kids who had crossed the border on their own, mostly in the wave of unaccompanied minors that began fleeing gangs and violence in Central America in 2014.
In fact, WaPo points out that last year, when the usual springtime influx of unaccompanied teens didn't start coming north, Southwest Key actually laid off almost 1,000 employees from the shelters it operates in several southwest states. This year, the unaccompanied teens were back, although in somewhat lower numbers, and in April, the New Cruelty rolled out its new "zero tolerance" policy aimed at scaring families from coming to the US and started to send in the first of many kids who'd been taken away from their parents. Southwest Key estimates that about 5 percent of the kids now at Casa Padre have arrived thanks to the family separation policy; the proportion is higher -- 10 percent and growing -- for its shelters as a whole.
But what's inside this place, that Jeff Merkley wasn't allowed to see? First up, we should point out that the reporters weren't allowed to photograph or talk to kids in Casa Padre -- the photos you're seeing are handouts from ORR's parent agency, Health and Human Services -- the same nice folks whose initial reaction to the Merkley visit was to say they don't just let anyone in who shows up, even someone who says he's a US Senator. Soboroff notes that the shelter posts a reminder in the lobby to call police first if members of the media show up, then to get the shelter communications director. Yes, police first. But since they were invited, the reporters yesterday didn't even have the cops called on them, which is very neighborly.
Inside the shelter are a bunch of murals with Famous Americans, mostly presidents, and inspiring quotes. Clearly knowing where its money comes from, Casa Padre has the Donald Trump mural deployed so it's the first thing workers (and the rare visitors) see. They had to go way back to a 2014 Trump tweet to find even something vaguely inspiring, and that was still pretty combative: "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war." We tried to see if Trump had any particular reason for tweeting that, but it seems to be random inspiring shit, like one from the day before in which he plagiarized Michael Scott from "The Office":
There's also an Obama mural, with a line from a 2014 speech announcing some of the executive actions that preceded DACA, promising ICE would focus on deporting only criminals: "My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
Inside the building, the former Walmart has been partitioned off into rooms, with a cafeteria, classrooms, and bedrooms that used to sleep four boys each; now, with the addition of a cot, they hold five:
The walls only go up partway, and the bare industrial ceiling is always there. The lights go out at 9:00 pm every night, and there are no doors on the rooms. Both WaPo and Soboroff mention that a former loading dock area has been converted to a theater where, when reporters visited, kids were watching a video of Moana dubbed in Spanish. The kids are allowed outside the building for a whopping two hours a day, Soboroff reports, and they're really not accustomed to seeing visitors:
WaPo noted that line from the guide, too, because it's not everyday a nonprofit employee compares kids to sad animals locked up in a zoo. Oh, but speaking of "animals," the guide also said the shelter has never had an MS-13 member there, not even once. We're WINNING!
Soboroff added that even though there are no doors on their rooms and they're not in actual cages, these kids are, in all but official status, incarcerated, even if they have air conditioning and get to watch Moana. That especially hit him when he saw they have to attend school and file into the cafeteria in shifts of hundred at a time, just like in a prison.
Of course, prisoners don't generally have wristbands with bar codes, so as we've said before, perhaps this is more like a storage facility.
The WaPo report explains the migrant-kid boom has been good for Southwest Key, and for Juan Sanchez, the nonprofit's founder and CEO.
Sanchez, a native of Brownsville, founded Southwest Key in 1987 with a focus on juvenile justice programs. In the late 1990s, he said, the organization won a federal contract to operate a shelter at the border for immigrants, many fleeing El Salvador.
Now, two decades later, Southwest Key operates 26 shelters for immigrant youth in Texas, Arizona and California. The growth has been accompanied by increased compensation for executives.
By 2015, Sanchez's compensation was $786,222, according to forms filed with the IRS. The following year, his Southwest Key compensation nearly doubled to $1.48 million, according to IRS forms filed by a related organization, an Austin charter school Sanchez founded.
Mind you, that's not a salary increase -- Sanchez explained to WaPo that the increased compensation was all added to his retirement account, to offset the many years he was paid so little that he had no retirement fund at all. As Sally explained to Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," all he wants is what's coming to him. All he wants is his fair share. Honestly, he's not really the bad guy here -- as both WaPo and Soboroff note, the shelters run by Southwest Key are inspected by state childcare authorities and staffed by licensed childcare workers, and however the nonprofits and their employees feel about Trump's family separation policy, they aren't the ones setting the policy. Soboroff mentions that while staff at Casa Padre have a weekly conference call with the feds, they had no warning at all about the family separation policy; he also said the worker showing reporters around "said she'd like to see a day when they don't have to do this."
Hey, you know who thinks the family separation policy is the wrong way to approach immigration, but ISN'T doing anything about it? Paul Ryan, who told Politico's Jake Sherman all about it:
Gee, if only there were some kind of bill in the Senate that Paul Ryan could also introduce in the House of Representatives as well. If he needs a text, he could look at S. 3036, introduced by Dianne Feinstein and co-sponsored by 37 Democrats. Maybe we could all call our congressmen and senators and tell them to get on board with S. 3036. Heck, if you can afford it, maybe you could help this nice nonprofit that's getting attorneys for families whose kids have been taken away, and is also raising money to pay the bond of parents in detention.
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