Families Divided

The Trump administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of children from adults who crossed the border illegally, has fueled a national outcry. Sign up for our ongoing coverage. Send story ideas to tips@texastribune.org.

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The youngest children separated from their parents at the border — some of them infants — are housed in three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, with a fourth planned for Houston, according to the Associated Press.

Doctors and lawyers who visited the facilities described them as clean and safe. Still, the children housed there were crying hysterically, reports said. The three centers, in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville, have been quickly repurposed to serve the needs of children younger than five years. The shelters are “specialized facilities” with “very well-trained clinicians,” Steven Wagner, an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the AP.

A new Trump administration policy of “zero tolerance” has led to the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents, who are uniformly prosecuted for the federal misdemeanor crime of crossing the border illegally. Because children can’t be sent to jails along with their parents, they are instead housed in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Lawmakers who toured the HHS facilities described seeing children as young as 8 months old. 

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At a Brownsville roundtable on Monday, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said "conditions are spartan" at Casa El Presidente, one shelter. 

The infants "were being taken care of by good people, but there was no determination as to when they might be reunited with their natural relatives," said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston.

“We will continue to raise our voices to stop patent, overt and definitive child abuse and we believe that we are going to be successful with ending this kind of treatment of our children — not by those who are taking care of the children but by the zero-tolerance policy," Jackson Lee said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other local officials have made it clear they do not want the fourth facility in their city. Turner said at a press conference Tuesday he does not want to be an “enabler.”

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