Neighbors and former workers of a Texas migrant detention facility for minors say numerous detainees escaped. The contractor who operates the site confirmed the allegations to a Houston-based news outlet.
A migrant detention center tasked with the responsibility of safely securing and protecting unaccompanied migrant minors does not appear to be able to keep their charges from escaping from the facility, Fox 26 Houston’s Greg Groogan reported on Wednesday. Neighbors who live near the former elementary school-turned-detention center and former employees of the facility report seeing multiple minors escaping.
“When I was employed there, I know of three escapes and once they are over that fence, we cannot touch them,” one of the former employees of the Baptist Children and Family Services (BCFS) detention center in Baytown, Texas told Groogan.
Neighbors expressed their fear and concerns about the escapes. “I’ve seen them climbing over the fences at night time,” Gregory Dawson, a longtime resident of the Lynchburg neighborhood, told the Houston Fox affiliate. “They came in my yard many a time. I’ve seen them hiding.”
“Up to 20 or more — and that’s just the ones I’ve seen,” Dawson continued.
Nadine Goodney, another local resident, told Groogan, “I don’t know what’s going to happen at night time. I said, ‘This is our neighborhood and we got kids,’ and they said, ‘This ain’t your neighborhood any longer.'”
The former BCFS employee validated the woman’s fears. He told Fox 26 that he witnessed violence among the mostly Central American teens who were being held in the Baytown facility.
“Some that were gang affiliated, some that were here because they were running from gangs,” another former worker told the reporter.
The workers also disclosed “alarming rates of disease” among those migrant minors being housed in the facility.
“Some of them had [tuberculosis],” one of the BCFS employees told Groogan. “We had to walk around the facility with masks on. A lot of scabies. Sexually-transmitted diseases, like I said, the scabies was a big thing there and the protective stuff they told you to wear, you just didn’t feel safe with that because you still have to go home to your family.”
Another neighbor said some of the escapes seemed to have been coordinated with individuals outside of the facility. “People in cars go down the street make a u-turn and come back and pick them up,” Kim Chapman said.
BCFS officials confirmed at least seven escapes during the past three years, Fox 26 reported. The official denied, however, the claims of serious communicable diseases made by former workers. Workers claimed they witnesses children were isolated from the rest of the community for treatments of tuberculosis.
Former workers also described contention between residents who came from El Salvador and Guatemala. “They did not like each other,” a former employee stated.
Texas Health and Environment Alliance officials told Fox 26 they are concerned about the facility that has been “inundated” during Houston area flood events. The group called for a comprehensive testing of the facility for environmental and structural reasons.
A statement from BCFS to Fox 26 said, in part:
First and most importantly, it is our duty to provide a safe and healthy environment for the youth and communities we serve as well as the staff that are employed with the BCFS Health and Human Services. We take this responsibility very seriously. We also take false information, slander and defamation very seriously. We therefore thank you for your efforts to obtain factual information.
The health information you were given is also erroneous and it would be a disservice to share this inaccurate information and instill fear in this or any community. At BCFS Health and Human Services -Baytown we employ a full time healthcare provider and nursing staff. Youth are treated onsite for minor injuries and typical childhood illnesses. There has never been a case of tuberculosis at the facility. The only rare, more serious illness since this facility opened has been the flu.
Lastly, there has never been a serious altercation involving the youth at this facility. Any incident that has taken place can best be described as what might typically occur with teenagers on school grounds. BCFS Health and Human Services does not operate detention centers. The teens are not on lock down, this is a shelter – they experience very normal adolescent behaviors where they start to test the limits, take risks, break rules. Regardless, under our supervision, we provide proper care, supervision and protection to each child or youth entrusted to us.
In the past three years we have had seven youth leave the facility without permission.
The non-profit charity receives $238 per migrant minor per day from the federal government.