WASHINGTON — A federal agency defended itself Wednesday against a backlash to a planned shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in Washington, D.C., saying it treats minors with dignity and respect.
In a statement to The Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed it granted a $20.5 million contract in August to a contractor to operate a 200-bed facility in the District of Columbia for children ages 12 to 17.
Dynamic Service Solutions, a federal contractor, applied to for a permit to open a shelter, a request that city officials said they found “inadequate” but which is still pending before the agency.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, several local lawmakers and immigration advocates said Tuesday they oppose the shelter because of the Trump administration’s track record for housing migrants in squalid conditions.
Bowser said the city has “no intention” of accepting the facility, and her administration issues the licenses needed for such shelters to open.
“Washington, D.C. will not be complicit in the inhumane practice of detaining migrant children in warehouses,” Bowser said in a statement. “We have no intention of accepting a new federal facility, least of all one that detains and dehumanizes migrant children.”
Officials at the HHS said migrant children in their care have their own beds and access to meals, legal services, board games, sports and classes. The Trump administration previously planned to cut some of those services, but a supplemental budget passed by Congress restored the funding.
“We treat the children in our care with dignity and respect, and deliver services to them in a compassionate and organized manner while we work expeditiously to unify each one with a suitable sponsor,” the press office at the agency’s Administration for Children and Families said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, uninformed individuals continue to perpetuate erroneous and irresponsible stories which only hinder our ability to run this program successfully and unify children with their parents, family member or other suitable sponsor,” the statement said.
The agency’s defense comes as advocates and elected officials elsewhere, including in northern Virginia, oppose the Trump administration’s efforts to establish new shelters for migrant children.
Federal officials have reported a surge of unaccompanied minors at the border in the past year, and are trying to expand their capacity to house them until they can be placed with a sponsor or relative in the United States.
In its statement, Health and Human Services stressed that unaccompanied minors were not with a parent or guardian when apprehended, unlike immigrant children separated from their families.
The agency said it is responsible for more than 8,000 children spread out among 170 facilities and programs in 23 states.
Dynamic Service Solutions, a Maryland-based federal contractor, did not return requests for comments.
Federal officials said the shelter would be called ChildrenFirst D.C. but declined to reveal the proposed shelter’s location.
City officials said it would be placed in the Takoma neighborhood in northwest Washington near the Maryland border.
Dynamic Service Solutions has been advertising for jobs at the shelter, including for bilingual educators, case managers and medical staff.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the shelter’s total capacity would depend on what District officials allow.
D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau is considering introducing emergency legislation to block the shelter by capping the number of youth that can be in a facility.
The D.C. Council’s office Twitter account decried the planned shelter on Wednesday, tweeting that “Children are to be worshipped, not warehoused.”