Shelter Closes in Cameron Co. Leaving Hundreds Laid Off

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BROWNSVILLE – Hundreds of employees working at a shelter for unaccompanied minors were laid off on Thursday.

According to a letter sent out, the government has ordered the cuts for all shelters it contracts with.

Hundreds of employees left work at Casa Padre Southwest key early on Thursday after getting a letter that they were laid off.

The shelter for unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally had just opened for business about three months ago.

“We all had a stable job before this. We were promised a stable job with benefits and that’s probably the reason that 98 percent of us did decide to come work for Southwest Key,” one woman said.

The woman didn’t want to be identified on camera; she will be referred to as “Laura.”

Laura said employees were instructed were instructed to not speak to the media.

She mentioned employees showed up at different times for scheduled meetings.

They were asked for their badges and escorted out of the building. Laura said she was upset at how it was handled.

“They let us go like we were herds, next, next, next. That’s all you heard, badges, badges and escort them out. And it wasn’t the way they were supposed to. This was supposed to be a professional place, a place of hope, that went out the window,” she said.

Laura said she wonders how she is going to support her family.

“What’s going to happen to us? What are our kids going to be fed? You know what I mean? We don’t get benefits like other people, so what’s going to happen with my mortgage, my car payment, my kids at the end of the month,” she said.

The letter the people took home read in part:

"Due to the low number of unaccompanied children crossing our national border, the Federal government has instructed all of its shelter contractors, including Southwest Key, that they must decrease the bed capacity in response to the current situation"

CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to the Office of Refugee and Resettlement, which funds Southwest Key. They fall under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Public affairs specialist with HHS Patrick Fisher, in a statement, tells us HHS operates about 100 shelters in 12 states.

Fisher said due to the high number of referrals last year, the ORR expanded its capacity given the lower number of unaccompanied minors this year. The ORR must reduce its capacity.

He said the ORR will continue to make the necessary changes to adjust to the declining number of referrals.

Humberto Alaniz, another laid-off employee, said he has a plan b.

“Thank god my other employment is going to hire me back. Thank god,” he said.

Others said they are going back to school or filing for unemployment.

We reached out to Southwest Key officials in Austin, but they did not respond to us.

A meeting will be held for everyone that was laid off on Friday at the Brownsville Events Center to find out what options they may have.

We reached out to the Cameron County Workforce Solutions Office to ask how they’ll prepare for the potential increase of people seeking unemployment benefits.

Maria Gonzalez, rapid response coordinator, said Southwest Key notified them earlier this week about the potential layoffs.

Eight hundred to 900 employees were let go.

A meeting will be set up within a week to speak with the employees about unemployment insurance. Those laid off can visit any Workforce Solution office or apply for unemployment benefits online at Texas Workforce Commission

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