“The good news is they listened,” said Rep. Sylvia R Garcia, a Democrat from Texas, of health and human services officials. Ms Garcia, a former social worker, said she saw red flags at the Houston shelter, a repurposed warehouse, before it opened. The plan was to house around 500 girls between the ages of 13 and 17. Ms Garcia said the facility did not have enough bathrooms and there was no clear space for children to eat or relax.
“They were worried about the children.” Ms Garcia said of the officials she spoke with, “They were worried about their care – every single one of them.” The shelter opened on April 1 and closed on April 17. “They wouldn’t put the children at risk.”
Ms. Escobar, whose area includes the largest emergency shelter in the Health and Human Services Network in Fort Bliss, said she raised concerns about conditions early on. On a visit there on Friday, she said she had seen significant improvements over six weeks ago.
But she said, “There are still things that are not acceptable to me.”
For example, staff were unable to answer some of Ms. Escobar’s questions, such as how long the children had been there. She said the children told her they stayed there for 48 days. “This is unacceptable,” she said.
Ms. Escobar also said that the shelter was too large and many shelters had to be broken into on the Fort Bliss campus. She raised the concern about “mega sites” with Xavier Becera, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in a recent call with Hispanic members of Congress.
Mr. Castro said he shared Ms. Escobar’s concerns, although he ignored concerns about the size of the shelter and said, during a call with reporters on Monday, there had to be a plan for how to shelter these children when they reached the border.
He also said that the conditions in the emergency facilities were not only better than those in the border facilities, “but they are better than what these children used to live with before they were in the hands of” border agents.