The New York Times visits a former Walmart Supercenter in Brownsville, Texas, that has become the largest licensed migrant children’s shelter in the country — a warehouse for nearly 1,500 boys aged 10 to 17 who were caught illegally crossing the border. The 250,000-square-foot facility is a model of border life in Trump-era America, part of a growing industry of detention centers and shelters as federal authorities scramble to comply with the president’s order to end “catch and release” of migrants illegally entering the country. Now that children are often being separated from their parents, this facility has had to obtain a waiver from the state to expand its capacity.
Federal authorities are considering establishing tent cities on Army and Air Force bases, and have already transferred hundreds of immigrant detainees to temporary housing at federal prisons. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement is now overseeing an estimated 100 shelters in 17 states, serving a population that has grown to more than 11,000 youths. One of the biggest concentrations is near the border in South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest regions in the nation. There are about 10 shelters in three Valley counties, the majority in the Cameron County cities of Brownsville, Harlingen and San Benito. The shelters have become big business, employing thousands of residents and bringing abandoned stores, schools and other buildings back to life.