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Failure is not an option when sheltering migrant children

A church group chosen by the Biden administration, despite an abundance of resources, was unable to provide hundreds of girls with humane living conditions.

Teenage migrant girls are loaded into vans to be transported out of the National Association of Christian Churches facility, on April 17, 2021, in Houston. The facility that housed girls who crossed U.S. border unaccompanied was closed and the girls moved.
AP Photos

It was a curious sight.

On the first day of April, an emergency shelter for unaccompanied migrant children was opened in Houston, Texas. Seventeen days later, a large group of teenage girls boarded a bus to leave the shelter, which was being shuttered, having fallen short on doing the job.

Since mid-March, the Biden administration has opened about a dozen such shelters, struggling to improve our nation’s care for a growing number of young people crossing the border. But the closing of the Houston facility was hardly a sign of progress, and we simply must do better.

The Biden administration had awarded a $4 million contract to the National Association of Christian Churches to operate the shelter. But the nonprofit group specializes in disaster relief and had no record of caring for unaccompanied migrants — a lack of experience that showed.

Before the shelter was closed, there were allegations of girls being asked to use plastic bags as toilets because there were not enough staffers to accompany them to the bathroom. Children sat on cots all day because there was no outdoor space. The White House said the facility was closed because it “did not meet the Biden administration’s very high standard for child welfare.”

Had the children’s care been the responsibility of the U.S. Border Patrol, as it has in the past, such problems would have been expected. But more was expected of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which had taken over the job.

A lawyer for the church association said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra had “personally requested” that the association open the shelter, so criticism of the group is unfair. They were just trying to be good Samaritans. But the bottom line remains the same: A government-selected organization with an abundance of resources was unable to provide hundreds of girls with humane living conditions.

The girls “were more treated like merchandise than treated as human beings, as people who just went through a very traumatic experience,” Cesar Espinoza, executive director of the migrant civil rights organization FIEL, told ABC News.

Some 22,000 children remain in HHS care.

All that matters, really, is that the Biden administration finally get this right.

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