Government sends migrant girls to new Florida facility

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Trump administration is sending migrant girls who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to a new Florida facility run by a nonprofit organization under a government grant.

The teenage girls arriving in Lake Worth, Florida, will receive classroom education and mental health and legal services until they are reunited with relatives in the U.S., said Annette Scheckler, spokeswoman for the organization, the Virginia-based U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Up to 141 girls can be housed in a building in apartment-style units with two or four beds each, Sheckler said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department, which funds the facility, said there are 38 teenage girls currently staying in the shelter, which is located in an unused section of a nursing home complex.

The facility, which sits just south of West Palm Beach and only 9 miles (14 kilometers) away from President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, opened amid scathing criticism from lawmakers and migrant advocates about poor conditions at migrant facilities in Texas and the treatment of teenagers at a detention center in Homestead, Florida. Some of the girls at the Lake Worth shelter arrived as transfers from Homestead, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

Their arrival also began a mere weeks after local leaders in Florida reacted with alarm to a U.S. Border Patrol notification that 1,000 migrants could be sent on a weekly basis to Palm Beach and Broward counties. Trump eventually denied the reports, saying there were “no plans to send migrants to northern or Coastal Border facilities.”

The girls come mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, they are first taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents, and then transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services Department.

“It’s a temporary foster-care type situation,” Sheckler told The Associated Press. “Our first concern is to keep the girls safe and secure.”

Health and Human Services has awarded a $13.4 million grant to the nonprofit “to provide for the care and placement” of unaccompanied migrant minors until September 2021, government spending records show.

HHS has a network of about 168 facilities in 23 states, including two smaller shelters in South Florida and the detention center in Homestead.

Sheckler said the organization connects the teens to an attorney to work on their claims for asylum or other immigration relief.

The facility’s bathrooms have towels, soap, toothbrushes and other hygiene products, according to Sheckler, who said she wanted to calm any fears that conditions at the new shelter might mirror those of facilities along the border that have been so heavily criticized.