The blame game is in full swing after a shelter for unaccompanied minors was abruptly closed in Houston on Saturday. The 500 teenage girls living in the emergency intake site (EIS) were hastily bussed away from the facility Saturday after an HHS volunteer died Friday night. The Biden administration is releasing few details.
The lack of transparency from HHS and the White House allows imaginations to run wild. HHS opened the EIS at the beginning of April when the National Association of Christian Churches (NACC) stepped up to help HHS ease the overcrowding of shelters at the southern border. The shelter was only open for a little more than two weeks before it abruptly closed without explanation last weekend. The NACC official in charge said the closing was a surprise to him and he was not notified in advance by HHS. Also factoring into the story is the fact that an HHS volunteer died the night before the teen girls were moved out.
A reporter for the local ABC affiliate was granted a tour of the facility – a warehouse near Bush Intercontinental Airport – yesterday. The girls were moved out so quickly that some personal items were left behind, like pillows with their names written on them. Donations of medical supplies, clothing, food, and juice sit unused. There are portable showers in the warehouse and rows of cots. There is a separate medical tent and cubicles for Zoom calls with sponsors.
— Miya Shay (@ABC13Miya) April 19, 2021
Today, I was allowed #exclusive access to the migrant girls shelter that was abruptly closed over the weekend. The facility reminded me of the mass shelters after Hurricane Harvey. My #abc13 reporting: https://t.co/3JuxZtEl0W pic.twitter.com/ffD4Qi96Mq
— Miya Shay (@ABC13Miya) April 20, 2021
NACC attorney Dean Hoover told the reporter that none of the shelters are ideal for children but it is unfair to blame NACC for operating a facility that didn’t provide adequate living conditions. He reminded the reporter that it was HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and President Biden who personally asked the non-profit to open the shelter for unaccompanied minors, though it had no previous experience. The organization has its roots in disaster relief. HHS awarded NACC a $4M contract to open the warehouse as a shelter. NACC didn’t seek the contract, it was contacted by the Biden administration.
In a statement to ABC News on Sunday, Dean Hoover, a spokesperson for NACC, sought to redirect blame toward the Biden administration — who NACC claimed had control over the site after bringing in its own subcontractors.
“NACC officials were personally requested by HHS Secretary [Xavier] Becerra and President Biden to open the doors of their large Houston facility to refugee children on an emergency basis,” Hoover said. “It is deeply hurtful and unfair to the folks at NACC that anyone would now think of criticizing them when all they were trying to do is be good Samaritans and help the HHS help these children.”
Hoover said the organization did the best it could to provide for the teenage girls. An immigrant advocate group criticized the set-up as inadequate from the beginning.
“In some of the areas of the center, there was no room for social distancing,” said Cesar Espinosa of FIEL. “It was one cot next to the cot, definitely no room for social distancing.”
Hoover said the facility was never meant to offer dorm-style housing, like the permanent shelters run by for-profit agencies. He adds NACC were acting as “Good Samaritans” and were vilified for their efforts.
For example, there were a number of bathrooms on-site, however, the allegations that girls were forced to use plastic bags got widespread attention. Hoover said he looked into that allegation and it did happen once – when it was after lights out. He said the incident involved a federal employee and not a NACC staff member and was reprimanded.
Espinosa said for FIEL, the disagreements over whether the facility was adequate or not is beside the point. This clearly illustrates, in his opinion, that the federal government needs to move faster to reunify unaccompanied minors with relatives or sponsors.
“We would like a better job to be done to work on reunifying these people,” he said, “So fight their cases in court, not in detention.”
Hoover said that Father Ortega, NACC’s founder, is so stressed out from the events of Friday and Saturday that he is now hospitalized.
A spokesperson for HHS, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in a recent interview that NACC was vetted following standard procedures. Espinosa wants to know why NACC was awarded the contract in the first place. Why did Secretary Becerra and Joe Biden personally recruit NACC for this when other facilities in Houston would have been available? “What was the process? Why was this center chosen?” Espinosa said to ABC News. “There’s many other spaces here in Houston that could have been chosen, that would have stepped up to the plate, who had the experience of running shelters or who have the experience of working with children in this space.”
Neither the White House nor HHS Secretary Becerra responded to inquiries from ABC for this story. Whatever happened to Joe Biden’s promise to have the most transparent administration ever? The lack of transparency leads observers to think that something is fishy here. Why hasn’t Becerra held a press conference and explained what happened and what is being done now? The Biden administration is ill-equipped to handle the crisis at the southern border brought on by Joe Biden’s irresponsible words and executive actions on illegal immigration. He took away the previous administration’s policies with the stroke of his pen yet he didn’t have any plans in place to handle the entirely predictable flood of migrants at the border. Biden’s cave to the open borders wing of the Democrat Party has backfired with serious humanitarian consequences.