President Joe Biden's administration shut down a Houston warehouse serving as a facility for unaccompanied migrant children amid allegations that nonprofit organizations running the site failed to provide adequate living conditions for the hundreds of girls being housed there.
ABC News reports the warehouse was opened by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month in response to the surge of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the southern border, but closed over the weekend due to poor living conditions, sources confirmed.
Exclusive video shot by ABC News showed buses removing more than 100 girls from the facility on Saturday (April 17), which had been run by a Houston-based nonprofit, the National Association of Christian Churches (NACC), that had no previous experience housing unaccompanied migrant children prior to the facility's opening.
Sources told ABC News the hundreds of girls housed at the Houston facility, ranging between ages 13-17, were at times instructed to use plastic bags for toilets because the facility did not have enough staff members to accompany them to restrooms, a claim that couldn't be confirmed nor denied by a facility spokesperson.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced over the weekend it planned to relocate the nearly 500 girls housed at the facility to others in the area, or to family members or sponsors, amid the allegations of poor living conditions.
"The children being transferred are being moved to ensure continuity of care under conditions that meet our strict standards of care," an HHS spokesperson told ABC News.
A White House spokesperson told ABC News the Houston facility was closed as it "did not meet the Biden administration's very high standard for child welfare."
The facility, which was located near the George H.W. Bush International Airport, was intended to serve as an emergency stopgap measure for sheltering unaccompanied minors amid a recent surge in migrant children entering the United States' southern border.
The NACC was awarded a $4 million contract to operate the facility, despite having no previous experience caring for unaccompanied migrant children before its opening earlier this month.
Dean Hoover, a spokesperson for NACC, attempted to redirect blame toward the Biden administration for the poor conditions in a statement issued to ABC News on Sunday (April 18.)
"NACC officials were personally requested by HHS Secretary [Xavier] Becerra and President Biden to open the doors of their large Houston facility to refugee children on an emergency basis," Hoover said. "It is deeply hurtful and unfair to the folks at NACC that anyone would now think of criticizing them when all they were trying to do is be good Samaritans and help the HHS help these children."
Jose Ortega, NACC's founder and president, claimed during recent interviews with the Houston Chronicle that the Houston organization was "begged" to accept the contract and house the children at the local facility.
"I'm a humble pastor that was thrown into this mess without asking for it," Ortega told the newspaper via ABC News. "We were not looking for a contract, we were not applying for a contract for us to make money -- this was thrown on us."
A spokesperson for HHS told the Chronicle that NACC was vetted following standard procedures during the deciding process.
Neither the White House nor HHS provided more information on why NACC was selected despite having zero prior experiencing caring for migrant children or running a migrant holding center.
President Biden acknowledged the situation at the border as a "crisis" on Saturday, using the characterization for the first time since taking office in January.
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