The Trump administration plans to open three new shelters to hold nearly 1,400 unaccompanied minors apprehended by US immigration authorities. The facilities will be located in Northern Virginia, Central Florida, and Southern California, according to a series of federal solicitations released earlier this month.
The government’s search for additional space further highlights the changing nature of immigration along the US southern border, which has shifted from young men looking for work to families seeking safety from violence back home. The need for more space is also in part the result of US president Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which among other things requires all asylum-seekers to be held in government detention until their cases can be processed. With courts severely overburdened, this can mean waits of months or even years, and overcrowded facilities.
The General Services Administration is looking to lease the new spaces on behalf of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which takes custody of unaccompanied children caught crossing the border illegally. They are held in shelters run by ORR contractors as their cases work their way through the immigration system or until they are released to a relative or sponsor. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) transferred more than 58,000 unaccompanied minors to ORR between October and June, a 57% increase over the same period last year. As of Aug. 5, there were roughly 8,700 immigrant kids in ORR care.
About 440 children will share 110 bedrooms at the Virginia shelter. Some 500 kids will be held at the shelter in Central Florida, and will share 125 bedrooms. The California shelter is expected to accommodate 430 kids, who will share 215 bedrooms. Staff-to-resident ratios will be about 1:3 in each facility, according to the solicitations.
Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat, said he is strongly opposed to opening a new shelter in his district.
“It seems like almost every day, we learn of new despicable ways President Trump is targeting immigrants, making it harder for asylum seekers to find refuge in America, and instilling fear in our communities,” Takano said in a statement. “The need for more facilities to house immigrant children is a direct result of the president’s anti-immigrant agenda.”
At least seven children have died in US immigration custody since last year. And citing budget concerns, the Trump administration recently cut back on educational and recreational programs, as well as access to legal services, for children in immigration detention.