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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Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Upbring.

A government-funded migrant youth shelter in Texas visited by first lady Melania Trump on Thursday has been cited with serious deficiencies by state inspectors this year, including delaying medical care for a child in pain, records show.  

The 12 deficiencies reported at the New Hope shelter in McAllen are among 37 that state inspectors found at its parent company’s two shelters in the past three years, records show.

The first lady made a surprise visit to government-funded shelters near the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, following a national uproar over the Trump administration’s family separation policy. President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday halting the practice.

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About 12,000 immigrant children are housed in shelters nationwide funded by grants from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Taxpayers have spent $3.4 billion since 2014 on shelters and placement services for children deemed unaccompanied minors. Officials say about 2,300 are children who have been separated from their parents in recent months.

An investigation this week by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Texas Tribune found that of roughly 70 companies receiving grants from the resettlement agency, nearly half the funds went to companies that have faced allegations of child mistreatment.

Several of the shelters have histories of neglect, physical and sexual abuse and death of children in their care. One, the Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, has systematically drugged children with heavy psychotropic drugs, Reveal’s investigation found.

One of the shelters the first lady visited was New Hope, almost 9 miles from the border. The shelter is a branch of Upbring, a nonprofit subsidiary of Lutheran Social Services Inc. As of May, New Hope housed 56 of the 160 children sent to Upbring who had been separated from their parents by immigration authorities.

Over the past three years, Upbring has been cited with 37 violations of state standards, according to Texas Health and Human Services inspections for New Hope and Bokenkamp.

Inspectors found children missed doses of medication, “children complained of pain for several days before medical care and evaluation was provided,” a child was punished by being hit with a ruler, staff background checks were inadequate and “a child in care was accidentally locked in a restroom.”

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Before late 2013, Upbring was called Lutheran Social Services of the South. The company has facilities across Texas, including Bokenkamp – another shelter currently funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement – in Corpus Christi.

According to media reports, the company’s license was suspended by the state in 2013 following the death of a baby at a foster care home in Cedar Park, Texas. After improving protocols and accountability measures, the center was allowed to reopen – and did so under a new name.

A company spokeswoman said in a statement to Reveal that the rebranding was an effort to clear up confusion about the organization: “Over the course of the last decade, the organization realized that many people mistakenly assumed that Lutheran Social Services served only people of the Lutheran faith. Also, ‘social services’ left people confused about what the organization’s true mission is – breaking the cycle of child abuse. Therefore, a more inclusive, dynamic, descriptive name was desirable and Upbring was settled upon in 2015.”

Edgar Walters with The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.

Disclosure: Upbring has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here. 

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