A 15-year-old boy is missing from the nation’s largest shelter for migrant children in Texas, according to multiple media reports.
A spokesman for Southwest Key Programs said the boy was being housed at Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, a converted former Walmart that can hold up to 1,500 children. The site has become an epicenter of controversy following the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has seen thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents and placed in such facilities.
The shelters, however, appear to have limited abilities to keep children in their custody. On Saturday afternoon, the boy, who had been held at Casa Padre for more than a month, reportedly walked out of the building and did not return, according to The New York Times and CNN.
Jeff Eller, Southwest Key’s spokesman, said the group could not legally require migrant children to stay at the facility if they wanted to leave, noting their only recourse was attempting to talk them into staying.
“As a licensed child care center, if a child attempts to leave any of our facilities, we cannot restrain them,” Eller said in a statement to CNN. “We are not a detention center. We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement.”
The boy’s departure has been reported to authorities and he has been registered in the missing children’s database, according to CNN.
Eller told the Times that while the event was rare, some children had left the group’s shelters before, though he declined to give a firm number. He said that less than 1 percent of kids who come through Southwest Key have chosen to leave.
Facilities like Casa Padre house children who were separated from their parents amid the Justice Department’s crackdown at the border, but also those that were detained at the border alone. The boy who left the site on Saturday arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border by himself, according to The Times.
President Donald Trump’s White House says it is working to execute a plan to reunite many of the migrant children detained in recent months with their families, although the effort is likely to be complicated and take some time. Many of the children have spread out between locations throughout the United States like Casa Padre.
The government said Saturday some 522 kids ensnared in the border separations had already been returned to the parents and the reunification process “well coordinated.”
“The United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. The agency said that 2,053 children removed from their families are still in custody.