U.S. Congresswoman Lois Frankel visited Lake Worth's facility for immigrant girls Monday. Frankel, who has also visited detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, said the 37 girls housed in Lake Worth are "the lucky ones," compared to those staying in border facilities.
"I found it very welcoming, very spacious, very clean," she said. "All the girls were in classrooms, some were learning English."
Frankel said she spoke with many of the girls.
The facility is called "Rinconcito del Sol," or "little corner of sunshine." Frankel called it an apt description.
"I think right now it is a little corner of sunshine for these young girls who are here," she said.
The facility is run by the nonprofit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, under a grant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is not operated by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which operates the facility in Clint, Texas that has recently made headlines for not providing soap and other essentials to detainees.
The state also oversees the facility through the Department for Children and Families.
Elcy Valdez, the director of Rinconcito del Sol, said they have 70 staff members at the facility, including eight licensed clinicians providing psychological services, teachers, and caseworkers trying to identify family members or other sponsors in the U.S. to whom the girls can be released. All the employees speak Spanish.
The facility can house up to 141 girls. Valdez said they had 38, but were able to reunite one girl with a sponsor in the U.S. Rooms are outfitted for two girls each, and each room has its own bathroom. She said as far as they know, all the girls are unaccompanied minors -- none were separated from their families at the border.
Neither she nor Frankel can guarantee the facility will not house girls separated from their families. By the time children get to HHS custody for placement in Rinconcito del Sol and similar facilities, they are placed as though they are unaccompanied minors, whether they came to the border unaccompanied or were separated from their travel companions.
Valdez said most of the girls have come from the "Northern Triangle" countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. She said the girls all speak Spanish, and a few also speak indigenous Mayan languages like Quiche and Mam.
The girls, who range in age from 13 to 18, mostly came to Rinconcito del Sol from facilities along the border. However, about a dozen were transferred from the facility in Homestead.
She said attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice have already visited the facility at least three times in the past two weeks. They give children a "Know Your Rights" presentation, and screen them to see what their legal options are to stay in the country.
Valdez said many of the girls are working through psychological trauma from their journey across the border and from the border detention facilities.
"We are looking at girls that are crying that because they miss their parents, girls that have been victims of human trafficking -- we actually have two of those," she said. "You can see in their behavior that they have some type of trauma."