For about three weeks now, hundreds of teenage boys who recently arrived at the country’s southern border have called a quiet corner of Midland’s oil patch home — at least for now.
As the federal government works to reunite them with their families or place them with a qualified sponsor, the young migrants, mainly teenagers, are living in rows of metal-sided buildings, originally built to house oilfield workers. The facility is surrounded by tall fences, and during the day, music drifts out of the compound as the young boys play soccer and roam the enclosed facility.
Initially, local officials were shocked and upset when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opened the facility on March 14 without giving Midland leaders notice. But now after a recent tour of the facility, local leaders have shifted their tone.
“It is actually a tremendous facility,” said Midland Mayor Patrick Payton. “What I’ve been telling people is these kids went from nothing to boarding school.”
The facility is housing about 600 migrant boys and teenagers at this point and is currently being staffed by personnel from Southwest Key, a Texas-based nonprofit that has operated shelters for young immigrants across the country for two decades.
The teenagers at the Midland shelter are on a tight schedule, according to officials familiar with the site, and attend classes including English-as-a-second-language courses, physical exercise and other activities.
“You can’t help but walk around and look in their eyes and look in their faces and realize this is the best they’ve had it,” Mayor Payton recounted after touring the facility. “This is the best hope they’ve had. This is the best chance they’ve had.”
The hundreds of teenage boys being held at the Midland facility and others like it across Texas are only intended to be kept on-site for a short period of time until they are transferred to a long-term care facility or a family member or qualified sponsor is located in the United States.
Once space is freed up, officials expect more migrant boys will be brought into these temporary holding facilities.
The fact that many of these children are arriving from Central America with their birth certificates at the border to be reunited with a family member in the U.S. was a surprise to Midland County Judge Terry Johnson.
“That was a shock,” Johnson told reporters earlier this week. “I asked point-blank, ‘if you’re gonna reunify these children, why don’t you take them back to Guatemala and reunify with their parents?’…and the answer was the majority of these kid’s families are already here”
The majority of unaccompanied children and teenagers currently arriving at the border have family already living in the United States and according to the Dallas Morning News, 80% of unaccompanied minors are reunited with family members. For those children and teenagers whose relatives cannot be located, they will be placed with a qualified sponsor, according to HHS.
Currently, temporary shelters for unaccompanied minors are being set up across Texas, including the one located in Midland County and more recently a facility in Pecos.
While Permian Basin officials are satisfied with the care being given to the migrant boys at the Midland facility, they continue to direct their frustration at the Biden Administration.
During his visit earlier this week, Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn decried the Biden Administration’s repealing of immigration policies established by former President Donald Trump, including Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain In Mexico” policy, which kept asylum seekers out of the United States while their asylum request was processed.
“The Biden administration reversed the previous administration’s policy for no other reason than it was President Trump who had ordered it without giving a thought on what would happen, what would they unleash,” Cornyn stated during a press conference on Wednesday.
While the number of migrant families and children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico has grown every month since April 2020, seasonal increases in border crossings typically happen around this time of the year and aren’t new.
Midland Mayor Patrick Payton said he expects more temporary holding facilities to appear across Texas, especially in areas with man camps like the Permian Basin.
“On a very cynical note, it is a moneymaker for these man camps,” Payton explained. “No doubt about it, they are making more money, if not as much money they made with oil companies, on this deal. So, it’s a business decision.”
Payton says federal officials have told him that the Midland migrant facility is leased for around 90-days but the staff at the site, according to Payton, expect to be in Midland longer than three months.