A Look Inside Casa Padre, a Converted Walmart Now Home to Nearly 1,500 Immigrant Children

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A Texas immigration shelter housing unaccompanied minors has opened its doors to the public for the first time in the history of its operation amid intense interest after a U.S. senator was turned away from the facility. 

Video provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday offered a glimpse at life inside Casa Padre, a former Walmart located along the Mexican border that has been home to nearly 1,500 immigrant children for more than a year.

It is there that the children — all boys between the ages of 10 and 17 — spend their days and nights, their futures unclear.

"We’re trying to do the best that we can taking care of these children. Our goal ultimately is to reunite kids with their families," Juan Sanchez, founder and chief executive of Southwest Key Programs, the nonprofit that runs Casa Padre under a federal contract, told The Washington Post. "We’re not a detention center... what we operate are shelters that take care of kids. It’s a big, big difference.”

Food is served for the boys at what used to be a McDonald’s, while the loading docks have been repurposed to accommodate kids looking to watch a movie.

The first image visitors see when they enter the building is a drawing of President Trump against the backdrop of an American flag.

"Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war," is written on the wall, quoting a tweet from Trump two years before he became president. 

Former President Barack Obama’s image is also on a wall, near a quote taken from a 2014 speech in which he announced protections for some undocumented immigrants

"My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants," it reads. "We were strangers once, too."

The children attend school in two shifts and get two hours outside a day, divided into one hour of physical exercise and one hour of free time. 

Boys share bedrooms with no doors and walls that reach only halfway to the 20-foot-high ceilings, The Post reported. Though the rooms were originally designed to accommodate only four children, a fifth roommate, who spends his nights on a cot, has been added as the shelter takes in more children. 

The boys are allowed to make two phone calls per week, though officials said it can sometimes take days or weeks for children to reach their parents. 

Dozens of the children were forcibly separated from their parents at the border by a new Trump administration "zero-tolerance" policy. 

“To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: Illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an announcement of the policy. 

That policy includes separating families, including infants, who cross into the U.S. illegally, and sending those "unaccompanied minors" into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

Each day, the federal government sends Casa Padre a list of children detained at the border to be placed in the shelter, Southwest Key Program Director Jaime Garcia told the Post. 

After white vans accommodated to shuttle as many as half a dozen kids drop them off at the shelter, Casa Padre’s new residents are showered, clothed and fed.

They then spend up to 72 hours in "intake," where they are vaccinated and checked for maladies including tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Once cleared, the boys stay at Casa Padre for an average of 49 days.


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