Recent allegations of mistreatment of migrant children being held by the government turned attention to a non-profit government contractor historically linked to the Baptist General Convention of Texas, when employees of a major retailer staged a walkout protesting an order of furniture for a new facility to warehouse teenagers seeking legal entry into the United States.
Employees of the home goods retailer Wayfair walked off their jobs Wednesday after more than 500 workers signed an open letter protesting the sale of $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to BCFS Health and Human Services, a Texas non-profit hired to run a new temporary emergency influx center for unaccompanied alien children in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
The Trump administration recently requested $4.5 billion in emergency appropriations to address a humanitarian crisis at the southern border. That includes funding for a network of 168 facilities in 23 states where unaccompanied minors seeking asylum wait an average of 44 days for a suitable sponsor.
“Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation,” said the Wayfair employees’ letter released on the heels of media reports alleging unsanitary and unsafe conditions at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas. “We believe that by selling these (or any) products to BCFS or similar contractors we are enabling this violation and are complicit in furthering the inhumane actions of our government.”
BCFS, formerly called Baptist Child & Family Services, was founded in 1944 as an orphanage for Mexican-American children. The San Antonio-based agency was listed online as ministry partner of the Baptist General Convention of Texas as recently as 2016. Today BCFS is a nationally recognized non-profit emergency management and response organization providing health and human services throughout the United States and abroad.
“BCFS stands ready to provide care for children as HHS plans to start placing children at Carrizo Springs as soon as conditions are safe,” said Evelyn Stauffer, director of communications for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.
Stauffer said the site, formerly used as a lodging facility for oil field workers in south Texas, is being upgraded to address issues like air conditioning and mold. When ready, it will accommodate up to 1,300 youth age 13-17. Boys and girls will stay in hard-sided structures, while semi-permanent soft-sided structures will be used for support operations.
Stauffer said opening the shelter will enable the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement “to continue placing unaccompanied children in an appropriate setting while a sponsor is identified that can care for the child while their immigration case proceeds.”
In 2018 BCFS Health and Human Services was budgeted to receive $367,860,381 in federal funding to run an emergency influx care facility in Tornillo, Texas, about 490 miles from the new facility planned for Carrizo Springs.
Originally built to accommodate 400 minor immigrants for a one-month contract, nearly 6,200 minors cycled through the facility during seven months before its closing was announced in January 2019.
Last December the Office of the Inspector General said BCFS Health and Human Services “generally met applicable safety standards for the care and release of children in its custody” but found the Tornillo facility deficient in areas like background checks and not enough mental health professionals to provide adequate care.
Kevin Dinnin, president and CEO of BCFS, told Vice News in January the Tornillo facility closed because he refused requests by the government to keep expanding the camp, routinely described as a “tent city” in media reports.
“The children were coming in but never leaving,” Dinnin said. “We as an organization finally drew the line. You can’t keep taking children in and not releasing them.”
Wayfair’s leadership team addressed protesting workers in an open letter.
“As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers and we believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within laws of the countries within which we operate,” the company said. “We believe all of our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors and suppliers included, are best served by our commitment to fulfill all orders. This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.”