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Former Walmart location to be used as unaccompanied minors facility

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2017 10:20 pm

A former Walmart Super Center in Brownsville will be used as a facility to house juveniles that are part of the federal government’s unaccompanied minor program.

Southwest Key Programs, a national nonprofit organization located in Austin, is in charge of the 208,000 square-foot facility. The company currently operates five shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children in CameronCounty through a contract with the federal government. They also have one juvenile justice alternative education program and Workforce offices through the Texas Workforce Commission.

Cindy Casares, director of communications for Southwest Key Programs, said the new shelter will house unaccompanied immigrant children under the age of 18 who arrive in the United States without a parent or guardian.

The Unaccompanied Children’s Services program is presided over by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The purpose of the shelter is to care for the children until they can be reunited with family or sponsor,” Casares stated in an email. “The shelter is licensed for childcare by the state of Texas, and the youth are supervised by trained adult staff 24 hours a day.”

The planned date to begin operations is March 15.

The City of Brownsville Building Permits Department listed the contractors for the Walmart renovation project as Ryad Bakalem and Rafael Chacon, doing business as Chacbak LLC. Bakalem, a Brownsville real estate developer, bought the former DollyVinsantMemorialHospital in December 2012. In 2013, Southwest Key began utilizing that facility to house 5 to 6-year old immigrant children.

In October 2016, Southwest Key announced it had acquired a building in downtown Brownsville that would allow it to expand support for many of its programs. The building, located on East Elizabeth Street, is a 19,000-square foot structure that will provide classroom space, a staff training location, a kitchen and extra storage space.

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