Some were leaning back, getting a shampoo at the sinks in the shelter’s barbershop, where a striped lit-up barber’s pole spun outside the door. They lined up in the cafeteria for dinner — chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables. Some played pool, or joined a tai chi session in the rec room. One teenager sat at a cafeteria table with his head bowed and hands clasped, praying silently. Another told the cafeteria worker who served him dinner, “Gracias, Miss.”
Everywhere, some of the shelter’s more than 1,000 employees hovered nearby — they sat the ends of the cafeteria tables while the boys ate dinner, watched “Moana” with the children in the old loading docks and escorted lines of boys in the hallways.
Many of the boys appeared to be 16 or 17, and the few who were much younger, around the age of 10 or 11, seemed almost out of place. They wore gym shorts and sweatshirts, sneakers and rosary necklaces. One had his arm in a sling and another had his leg wrapped in a bandage. All of them are classified as unaccompanied minors by federal officials — they either crossed the border without a parent or guardian, or were separated from their parents as part of the administration’s new policy of arresting illegal border crossers and separating them from their children.
The vast majority, Southwest Key officials said, crossed the border unaccompanied.
[Conservative religious leaders are issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart. Read more here.]
In Bedroom 53, there were four beds on frames and one bed on a cot. The cot highlighted the housing crunch — it was one of hundreds of new beds that were recently added to boost the shelter’s capacity. In May, Casa Padre was licensed by the state at a capacity of 1,186. On Wednesday, after a variance approved by the state allowed Southwest Key to boost its population, the new capacity was roughly 1,500.
Southwest Key executives said the additional children do not make it too big to properly manage. They defended the services and the care they provide the children, as they will likely do when elected officials take tours of their own in the coming days, including Mr. Merkley. A congressional delegation is scheduled to tour the shelter on Monday.