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Articles by Kavitha Surana

Here’s What It’s Like to Work at a Shelter for Immigrant Kids

Some facilities are so overstretched; employees often wait hours for a break to go to the bathroom

by Kavitha Surana and Robert Faturechi, ProPublica

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The employees were in the ninth hour of another 12-hour shift Saturday afternoon at a converted Walmart now housing immigrant boys when a teenage resident took off.

Staff members at the Casa Padre shelter had been trying for weeks to connect the 15-year-old with family. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere. As a soccer game began, staffers watched as the boy dashed from the dirt field, clambered over the chain-link fence, jumped into a lake next to the building, then disappeared from view.

He wasn’t the first child to run away from a facility operated by the Southwest Key network, the largest licensed shelter provider for immigrant children caught crossing the border. Staff members went looking for him to try to convince him to stay, then stopped, accepting his departure with equal measures of exhaustion and futility.

“The staff came in at 6 a.m. This happened at 3, 3:30,” said one employee at the shelter. “People are just too tired. They don’t have the strength. … Some of them are just like, ...