Rumors flew as a Houston facility housing 450 female illegal immigrant minors abruptly closed over the weekend.
The move was announced Saturday by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to KTRK-TV.
“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,” officials said in a statement, the station reported.
One report in the New York Post noted that a Friday incident preceded the closure.
“There seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what was happening,” Cesar Espinosa, director of advocacy group FIEL Houston, told The Associated Press, according to the Post. “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.”
The Houston Chronicle reported Saturday that the closure was linked to overcrowding, and that an adult staffer had died their Friday night. The cause of death appeared unrelated to the overcrowding, according to the Chronicle.
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said her understanding was that a federal employee serving as a volunteer at the center died Friday.
“That was the only reason that there were ambulances there,” Jackson Lee said, according to KTRK.
Espinosa told the station the conditions were “inappropriate for anyone, especially young girls.”
“There was really no space for social distancing … They were only allowed to get up from their cot to use the restroom as well as to shower,” he said.
“Everything that was being brought in was temporary. The showers were temporary, they were bringing in temporary restrooms, so this space was not equipped to house anybody, much less children,” he said.
Pastor Jose Ortega of the National Association Of Christian Churches said the agency received no advance warning of the closure, according to KPRC-TV.
“We actually found out when we started seeing these buses arriving this morning,” he said, according to the station.
He said disagreements over contractors spelled the end of the shelter.
“It’s just been a nasty, nasty experience,” Ortega told KHOU.
The official ORR statement simply said the girls at the center were being transferred and cited “continuity of care under conditions that meet our strict standards of care in ORR state licensed shelters, the Carrizo Springs Influx Care Facility or Emergency Intake Sites where beds have become available,” according to KTRK.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner added yet another reason to the pile by saying that he was told by the White House on Saturday that the facility was no longer needed, according to KPRC.
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