BCFS Health and Human Services has secured a multimillion-dollar federal contract to convert a luxury hotel in Weslaco, Texas, into a massive, self-contained center to house young illegal immigrants.
The Baptist nonprofit agency has secured the contract and a conditional license to transform the Palm Aire Hotel and Suites into a 600-bed facility for young immigrants by October, reports local television station KRGV
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The Palm Aire Hotel and Suites
now describes itself as the Rio Grande Valley's "leading destination resort" and features two swimming pools, tennis courts, an extensive fitness center, a sauna, and more, leading some to speculate that the new center will be a luxury facility for the children.
Krista Piferrer, who works with BCFS external affairs, told The Brownsville Herald
this week that the exact renovations to the resort remain undetermined, but will conform to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services licensing standards, including adding fencing and security precautions around the property.
The Palm Aire property is especially attractive for the project because of its great deal of outdoor space, Piferrer said.
"This facility shows great promise for this program, because it allows for outdoor recreation facilities," she said. "Soccer is a favorite among the youth that we serve. We would establish a fence around the perimeter."
in a statement on its website that the one-of-a-kind center will provide a centralized intake facility to provide "short-term shelter and expedited reunification of unaccompanied minor children with their families in the United States."
The organization has requested a conditional license from Weslaco to establish the facility, which BCFS hopes will help alleviate the crowding conditions seen in Border Patrol facilities as a result of the increased number of young immigrants making the trip from Central America into the United States.
"This facility will be largely self-contained and provide a safe setting for the community to respond to this influx, as well as the children who are separated from their families," said Asennet Segura, BCFS executive vice president of residential operations .
Currently, BCFS operates a detention center for young illegal immigrants at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, KRGV notes. But with the new intake facility, children will be able to be transferred quickly from Border Patrol custody and to their families, KRGV says.
"The average length of stay at the facility will be 15 days," BCFS said. "During that time, children will be provided room and board, in addition to basic education, recreational activities, medical and mental healthcare, case management, and religious services, if they choose to participate. The children will not attend public school."
While the facility is expected to help with the current immigration crisis, the Weslaco site will be an expansion of BCFS's programs in Harlingen, Texas, which have been in operation since 2007.
While BCFS has been in the news recently because of its assistance with immigrant children, the agency began as an orphanage for Hispanic children in 1944, when they were not accepted at other orphanages. Since that time it has become a multinational network of health and human services nonprofit organizations, Piferrer said.
She said the Weslaco center will have medical staff on hand, so children who have diseases or are injured will not be transferred to hospitals in the area.
Weslaco City Manager Leo Olivares told KRGV that the agency's request will go through the regular planning and zoning process and will still need to go to the city commission for a final vote.
Some city officials in June insisted the project obtain only a conditional use, reports The Brownsville Herald, resisting a push from some involved to move the deal along more quickly.
"The city of Weslaco needs to determine if any conditions need to be placed on the type of operation that is going to be there, what children will be allowed or not allowed, how many children will be allowed, whether the operation of this facility will or will not impose on the adjoining landowners in the use and enjoyment of their property," City Attorney Ramon Vela said in a legal opinion.
City leaders are also concerned about whether the facility will be used to process adults if the number of young immigrants drops, the newspaper reported.
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