Brownsville, Texas — Ignore the new sign on the outside and it looks like just another Walmart.
There's the two large entrances with sliding glass doors and a spacious parking lot filled with cars.
Instead, the former South Texas Supercenter is a holding facility for hundreds of immigrant boys, most of whom crossed the nearby U.S. border on their own. A small percentage of the nearly 2,000 boys at the facility here in Brownsville were separated from their parents at the border.
While a similar facility outside of El Paso appears to be isolated in the tiny town of Tornillo, the facility here in Brownsville – Casa Padre, a former Walmart building run by the non-profit Southwest Key Programs –sits just off a busy intersection, behind a McDonald's and across the street from a Whataburger. A gas station and small strip mall sit on the edges of the parking lot.
On Tuesday morning, facility employees filed into work, driving past a gate shack and a line of yellow "Private Property" barriers. A security guard circled the parking lot in a golf cart.
Just beyond the lot, drivers filled up their gas tanks and passed through drive-thru lines.
Southwest Key Programs is under federal contract to run the facility, which is about five miles north of the border.
“We’re not a detention center," Juan Sanchez, the Southwest Key founder, told the Washington Post during a recent tour of the facility. "What we operate are shelters that take care of kids. It’s a big, big difference.”
Only boys ages 10-17 are allowed at the facility. Southwest Key provides food, beds and classes. The boys also spend two hours per day outside, the Post reported.
A video released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed several rooms with multiple beds, a recreation room with video games and a cafeteria inside the facility. The video also showed the boys exercising in a parking lot area.