Less than one percent of illegal migrant children who are being housed in U.S. child care facilities have ever fled these sites, a source close to the matter told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
There are currently three child care centers in the United States in Texas, Arizona and California, that are run by a nonprofit group called the Southwest Key Programs. Those facilities, which are licensed child care facilities and not detention centers, have cared for 19,846 this fiscal year, the source told TheDCNF. Of those children, only 42 children have ever voluntarily left the facility on their own.
A 15-year-old boy voluntarily left the largest child care center in the country, a repurposed Walmart now known as Casa Padre center in Brownsville, Texas, on Saturday, officials at the Southwest Key Programs confirmed.
“As a licensed child care center, if a child attempts to leave any of our facilities, we cannot restrain them,” Jeff Eller, a spokesperson for the Southwest Key Programs, said in a statement. “We are not a detention center. We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement.”
The boy, who was an unaccompanied migrant when he arrived at the border over a month ago, was in the playground during designated recess around 3 p.m. when he began to flee, sources familiar with the incident told TheDCNF.
“We told him we could take better care of him than he could alone,” a source said. “He climbed the fence and took off.”
Local law enforcement in Brownsville was called and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was notified once the boy left the facility, Eller said.
Days prior to this incident, the facility had been in touch with a man in Dallas who claimed to be the father of this child. Upon further review of birth certificates, documentation and DNA testing, authorities concluded that this man was not the boy’s biological father, and thus would not release him into the man’s custody, the source told TheDCNF. After the boy fled, the man was contacted and disclosed that he had been in touch with the child, gave him money, and that the boy was headed back across the border towards Honduras.
The child’s decision to leave the facility had many officials discrediting the care offered at these migrant facilities.
“If the facility was such a great idea, why are they trying to get out?” Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said Sunday to The New York Times. “Most of the people that escape, they escape from jails. They escape from prisons, because it’s not a fun place to be at. I can just imagine what might be going through that young man’s head, at 15 years old: ‘What am I doing here?'”
Martinez, a Democrat, did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.
Southwest Key Programs rebutted these allegations of mistreatment.
“We don’t make policy. We take care of kids. And we do a really good job of it,” Eller told TheDCNF. “All we want to do is take care of kids who are at risk and in need. We do it extremely well and with compassionate care. We are a child care center, not a detention center.”
After ProPublica released audio on June 18 of children crying for their parents inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention center, critics slammed President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy that separated illegal parents from their children. Since then, Trump has signed an executive order to end separations, but some still continue to conflate detention centers, which are run by the Department of Homeland Security through branches like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or CBP and child care facilities like the one in Casa Padre that is run by a nonprofit. DHS utilizes detention centers to hold illegal immigrants, but can only keep children, 90 percent of whom arrive at the border unaccompanied, there for up to three days until they are moved into a child care facility, a source familiar with DHS policies told TheDCNF. (RELATED: Laura Bush Slams Trump’s Migration Policy)
A former shfelter worker in Tucson, Arizona, that is operated by Southwest Key Programs, Antar Davidson, said the facility prevented workers from hugging or having any human contact with the children, a claim the program denies.
“We hug kids. We hold kids. We have, by law, an appropriate touching policy, but we hug kids everyday and we’re proud to do it,” Eller told TheDCNF.
Although many have questioned why children have decided to leave the facilities, despite the numbers being so low, the majority of children choose to stay because of the superior conditions and treatment in the facilities compared to those the children weathered in their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, a source close to the facilities told TheDCNF.
“This may be the first time in their life where they were safe and felt like someone cared for them. It may be the first time they had three real meals a day. It may be the first time they’ve ever seen a toy,” the source said, pointing out that many of these children have fled their countries because of gang and drug violence, lack of opportunities, poverty, and a whole host of other dire conditions.
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