The shelters were intended for children under the age of 12, referred to as “tender age” detainees, who are entering the detention system in ever-larger numbers under the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from parents who enter the country illegally.
Many are toddlers and babies and require special care, and their numbers have been rising since last month, when the government enforced a “zero tolerance” policy on people crossing the border. Estimates suggest that more than 2,400 children under the age of 12 are now in federal custody, including many who have been separated from their parents.
But on Wednesday, faced with the intense criticism over the shelters and the separation of families, President Trump retreated, signing an executive order that would detain parents and children together.
For now, it seems the separations will stop, but it remains unclear what will happen going forward. A Health and Human Services official said that children already separated will not be immediately reunited with their parents while the adults remain in custody during their immigration proceedings.
The executive order came just hours after reports that three centers in southern Texas — in Brownsville, Combes and Raymondville — were being outfitted to accommodate younger children.
A person inside a shelter in Brownsville, Tex., took a series of pictures and supplied them to The New York Times. The facility, which houses babies and toddlers, is operated by Southwest Key Programs, the same nonprofit group that operates a shelter at a former Walmart.
One image showed a toddler girl who is about 12 months old, playing on a colorful mat decorated with the letters of the alphabet and drawings of animals. The workers and others standing around the little girl wear blue hospital-style bootees to keep the wooden floor clean.
The girl was separated from her relatives for about a month as part of the family-separation policy, according to the person who took the photo, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release an image.
A backlash against the “tender age” shelters erupted on Tuesday night after The Associated Press first reported news of their existence. The MSNBC late night host Rachel Maddow broke down crying on the air as she read the A.P. article.
Referrals of young children have risen “exponentially” since the “zero tolerance” policy was announced, according to Elizabeth Frankel, associate director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. The center pairs migrant children with lawyers and social workers who advocate on their behalf until they are reunited with parents.
Read more at: What’s Behind the ‘Tender Age’ Shelters Opening for Young Migrants - The New York Times