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Staff escort immigrants to class at the U.S. government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on July 9. 

How in the world did a company with a history of shady business practices, a company whose Robeson County group home for children was shut down by the state of North Carolina, win nearly $4 million in federal money to house as many as 72 migrant children in a shelter it didn’t yet have in Laurinburg?

That’s a mighty good question, one that gives rise to a lot of other questions.

Unfortunately, there are many more questions than answers surrounding the $3.9 million awarded to New Horizon Group Home LLC by the federal Administration for Children and Families. That’s the agency over the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and its Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, which is responsible for temporary care of the thousands of immigrant children who wind up in this country without a parent, at the mercy of the Trump administration.

Reporters at WRAL-TV in Raleigh started raising questions when they noticed the unusual grant award to New Horizon. That grant is the only one to a North Carolina program in the last 10 years.

The more the reporters investigated, the stranger things seemed. They teamed with Reveal, the news outlet for the Center for Investigative Reporting, to look more closely. This is responsible journalism, not some sort of “fake news.”

New Horizon, far from being an outstanding outfit that would be a natural choice to care for immigrant children, is struggling. In April 2018, the state of North Carolina shut down its Robeson County group home for boys with mental health problems after an extensive audit found multiple violations. State officials said conditions at the home were so bad they were “an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare” of the boys.

New Horizon is still contesting the state regulators’ allegations against it, as well as their revocation of its license for that facility, in state administrative court. There’s a good chance the company won’t even be allowed to house children for the next four years.

Yet, a year after the Robeson home was closed, the federal government gave New Horizon the $3.9 million grant to house children for three years.

Funny thing — it turns out New Horizon has never had the proper license to run the sort of residential child care facility the grant is for. When the reporters started asking questions, the company applied for one.

In fact, New Horizon has never run the type of shelter for immigrant children that the grant is supposed to pay for. Most of the reporters’ questions have been met with silence, or incomplete or inaccurate answers, both from New Horizon and from the federal agencies involved.

This, along with other reporting, makes us wonder how well the Trump administration is caring for the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in its custody. The administration’s policies have been driving those numbers up amid reports of harsh treatment of the children. The ORR estimated that it had about 10,000 children in its custody in July. Maybe it’s desperate for places to put them.

Awarding the grant to an unlicensed North Carolina company with a woeful track record suggests that the administration is unable or unwilling to deal with the crisis it has helped to create.

The matter has been complicated by the Trump administration’s recently announced attempt to obtain the authority to detain migrant families, including children, indefinitely. The administration also seeks to eliminate an independent licensing mechanism that would monitor detaining facilities to make sure they’re safe, sanitary and humane. The Department of Homeland Security — which recently argued in federal court that soap is not a requirement for sanitary conditions — would be the sole authority of determining the appropriate conditions for indefinite detainees.

All of this sets the stage for disaster. If the administration succeeds, will New Horizon become a dangerous facility that keeps immigrant children on an indefinite basis?

There are a lot more questions than answers. For the immigrant children, they may be questions of survival.

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