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Lawmakers still learning about local immigrant child shelter

July 5, 2014

Lawmakers still learning about local immigrant child shelter

Posted in The Courier of Montgomery County: Saturday, July 12, 2014 10:22 pm | Updated: 2:49 pm, Sun Jul 13, 2014.

A Conroe facility housing an undisclosed number of unaccompanied alien children from various foreign countries received extra attention from local lawmakers last week.

The location at 10393 League Line Road provides shelter and recreational space, through the nonprofit Southwest Key organization based in Austin, to immigrant children who cross the U.S. border illegally.

Southwest Key, according to its website, contracts with federal government agencies and private foundations to operate four types of programs throughout the country: juvenile justice programs, workforce and housing services, schools and shelters for immigrant youths.

The League Line facility has operated for almost nine years, when the property was purchased in 2005 by Conroe CHS LP from the private Memorial Hall School based in Houston.

Prior to the 2005 property transaction, the League Line property had held a residential boarding school since 1994.

Southwest Keys operates on a $150 million budget drawn primarily from the government contracts, with additional funding from foundations, special events, private corporations and contributions, according to its website.

The Southwest Keys website also indicates the children housed at the immigrant youth shelters are ages 10-17.

Conroe’s facility sits on roughly 37 acres of land, complete with a sand volleyball and basketball court. Reporters from The Courier visited the facility Tuesday and Wednesday but were redirected to the Southwest Key corporate office in Austin, which referred back to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs at DHHS, stated in an email that the department “does not identify the locations of regular/permanent Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelters for the safety and security of minors and staff at the facilities.”

Wolfe then offered four links to information on the unaccompanied immigrant children program.

With illegal immigration and border security at the forefront of political discussions nationwide, local lawmakers want to know more about the Conroe facility.

State representatives Brandon Creighton and Steve Toth, both vying for the Senate District 4 seat in a runoff election Aug. 5, made separate trips to the immigrant youth shelter Wednesday.

Creighton said he’s been working with Rep. Michael McCaul of District 10, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office to gather more information about the Conroe shelter.

Creighton said he is concerned with possible cases of tuberculosis and other diseases that could compromise the safety of the general public.

“The influx of all the kids being sent, that is primarily from Central America where the cartels have gotten very smart in knowing we’re compassionate toward the minors for sure,” Creighton said. “We’re going to do what we can to make sure they’re safe and well. But at the same time, they’re coaching that we have immediate amnesty here, which we don’t.

“From a safety perspective, it’s not safe for them to go on these long journeys in these tight enclosed areas and then possibly be picked up by coyotes. It’s not safe for the kids coming from Central America and it’s not safe for people here, if these kids aren’t screened properly and they are indoctrinated into society here. We’re going to make sure safety needs are met. We want to know what they’re doing and is it safe for the citizens of Senate District 4.”

Montgomery County lawmakers left in the dark

A former property owner and board member at Memorial Hall, who spoke to The Courier under conditions of anonymity, said his former neighbors are not happy about the shelter being in their neighborhood.

He said that when the school sold the property in 2005, the understanding was that another school would serve smaller children trying to learn English.

When contacted by The Courier last week to discuss unaccompanied alien children being housed in Conroe, officials at Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler’s office still were looking for answers.

Sadler’s chief of staff, Doris Goleman, said commissioners had not been formally notified of the Southwest Keys operations.

Conroe Councilman Guy Martin felt like the city should have at least received a courtesy call from the federal government, even if only to keep an open line of communication.

“It’s concerning that they wouldn’t even give us a call or let us know what’s happening here in our own city,” Martin said. “That’s being handled by a private company with federal funds, but you’d still expect (local government) to hear something about it.

“We’ve never gotten any communication – phone call, letter, email. You name it, we never got it. They only do stuff to get anything built that they want to build, proper codes and permits. But as far as communication, there is none. They won’t respond. We’ve certainly tried from our end.

Finding solutions

The White House sent Congress a $3.7 billion supplemental funding request Tuesday meant to address the influx of child migrants crossing the southwestern border.

More than 50,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have crossed the U.S. border this year, and lawmakers anticipate the figure could more than double by the end of the year without swift action.

President Barack Obama in June called the influx at the border a “humanitarian problem.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who met with Obama in Dallas last week, says the issue can be attributed to bad public policy by the president.

“Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done,” Perry said.

Toth and Creighton agree that it will ultimately be up to the state of Texas to determine a course of action in handling unaccompanied alien children.

“(The federal government is not going to do anything,” Toth said. “They’ve dropped it squarely in our lap and even Republicans are fearful of being looked upon as hateful or racist, that they’re completely immobilized out of fear that’s going to happen. You talk to the people in Bexar County and that live in the Rio Grande Valley area, Democrats and Hispanics want the border to be secure. Republicans have to come to the understanding that this is happening on our watch. And so you may be afraid to do anything, but at the end of the day, we’re going to be the ones that are blamed for it.”

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