US reopens Texas surge facility to hold immigrant teenagers

HOUSTON — President Joe Biden’s administration has reopened a tent facility to house up to 700 immigrant teenagers after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied by a parent, a sign of growing worries about how children are treated in government custody.

U.S. Health and Human Services said Monday that the first teens arrived at Carrizo Springs, Texas, which was converted two years ago into a holding facility under former President Donald Trump. The facility has been closed since July 2019.

Two years ago, Carrizo Springs had a large tent serving as a dining hall and assembly area, with children housed in dormitories with bunk beds and tables. The facility is reopening with changes to account for the coronavirus pandemic.

HHS operates long-term facilities for immigrant children apprehended by the Border Patrol. Its 7,100 beds are almost entirely full, leading the agency to re-open Carrizo Springs. Meanwhile, around 700 children are being held by Border Patrol, which has reopened a tent facility in South Texas and otherwise holds immigrants in stations unequipped to detain children. The Border Patrol’s McAllen Processing Center — where images of detained immigrants were shared worldwide when the Trump administration separated families — is closed for renovations that will remove large cages formed by chain-link fencing.

Democrats during the Trump administration sharply criticized facilities like Carrizo Springs and others at Tornillo, Texas, and Homestead, Florida, for their high cost — an estimated $775 per child per day — and the risks of detaining immigrant children at camps not subject to the same requirements as regular facilities.

HHS says opening Carrizo Springs will provide the beds necessary to transfer children out of Border Patrol stations and eventually place them with sponsors.