When Kelvin was a sophomore in high school, his mom called him every day during her lunch break. They had emigrated from Honduras when Kelvin was three years old, and moved every few years, roving between Texas and California. At each stop, Kelvin’s mother warned him to be careful about trusting other people—their existence in the U.S. could easily be upended by a grumpy neighbor, she said. Kelvin, watchful and quiet, never needed the reminder. He was short for fifteen, and baby-faced, and he worried that his mother’s phone calls made him seem weak.
One day, in January, 2014, she didn’t call. Kelvin feared that she might be sick. She was a maid at a motel in San Bernardino, California, not far from their apartment, and had worked extra shifts over the holidays. After school, he tried her cell phone, but she didn’t answer. He passed out on the couch that night, waiting for her to come home. The next morning, when Kelvin woke up, the apartment was empty. She finally called that afternoon, from a detention facility, and told him that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had raided the motel and arrested all of its undocumented workers. She was being deported, she said. Her voice cracked as she promised to find someone to take care of him.
For the next two weeks, Kelvin lived alone in their apartment. When the rent was due, the landlord kicked him out. During his first night on the street, he tried to sleep on a bench behind a Mexican restaurant, his teeth chattering from the cold. The second night, he discovered an abandoned school bus and curled up on one of the seats. He briefly crashed at a friend’s place, until his mother convinced an aunt in Houston to offer Kelvin her couch. On the Greyhound to Texas, Kelvin tried to block out his surroundings, making up a story in his mind in which he was a superhero, saving lives and fighting bad guys. He called his aunt as the bus pulled into the station, but she didn’t answer. He tried again and again as he wandered wide, gray streets near the terminal. She never picked up.
He didn’t want to sleep on the streets of a strange city, and didn’t have the money for a bus back to San Bernardino. He decided to turn himself in. The cops picked him up and drove him to a concrete building in downtown Houston—the local office for Child Protective Services. They had Kelvin wait in a conference room, where, a few hours later, a man in baggy khakis and thick-soled sneakers padded through the door. He looked about sixty, with ruddy cheeks, cotton-white hair, and glassy blue eyes. His face was kind and sad. His name was James Terence Keel, but he went by Terry.
“You O.K.?” he asked.
Kelvin’s mom had been taken away two months earlier. “I’m good,” Kelvin said.
Keel is the president of the Children’s Center, a nonprofit that supports and houses children who have been separated from their parents because of incarceration, deportation, illness, or violence. The organization is based in Galveston, Texas, a small island in the Gulf of Mexico, where most of the houses are painted in pastel colors and chipped from the salt air. I first visited the Children’s Center in March of 2015. At the time, Texas had at least twenty-six facilities for underage undocumented immigrants—more than any other state. I wanted to report a story about what it was like to grow up in one of these facilities, in a state of legal suspension. I reached out to all of them, and the Children’s Center was the only one to return my call. The first time Keel and I spoke, he invited me to come by for breakfast.
It was around 10 A.M. when I pulled up in front of a gently aged white clapboard house. A basketball hoop with a frayed net stood in the driveway. Inside, eight groggy teen-age boys lounged around a long table, eating doughnuts and staring at their phones. Bob Marley played on a portable speaker. Keel had his laptop open, and two boys were urging him to take them for haircuts. One of them was Jhonny, whose hair was long on top and buzzed on both sides. He managed the playlist and ignored the others’ music requests. Marlin, skinny, with a faint mustache, poked fun at Jhonny’s haircut. The oldest of the group was Junior, who had already graduated high school and was desperate to work, though Keel would never approve of him working illegally. He said he was painfully bored, and spent his days lifting weights, pacing the boardwalk, and watching YouTube videos. For much of the morning, he spoke with a quiet self-assurance as he advised another kid on what to text a girl.
Throughout the day, boys filtered in and out of the house to use the bathroom, or to ask Keel if he could give them a ride. The mood was hectic and familiar. Most of them were from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala—countries known collectively as the Northern Triangle, where rising gang violence and poverty has forced people to flee en masse. A few had spent stretches of time in other facilities, until a lawyer or social worker pointed them to the Children’s Center. Keel’s phone was constantly ringing, and nearly every call ended with “te quiero, hijo”—“I love you, son.” At one point, after one of the boys left the room, Keel turned to me and said, “His father was dismembered in front of him.”
Keel studied social work and psychology at the University of Alabama, and worked for a variety of government agencies and nonprofits in the mental-health field, before he took over the Children’s Center, in 1994, when it was a local homeless shelter. In 2003, a social worker asked if he would accept an immigrant client, a seventeen-year-old girl from Ethiopia. Word soon spread among attorneys that Keel would accept the children that other organizations considered too burdensome. One lawyer asked him to accept a seven-year-old Guatemalan who was paraplegic. He had crossed the border on the back of his grandmother, who was scheduled to be detained and deported. “Nobody else would take the child,” Keel told me. “I said, ‘I’ll take the child, but I’m going to take the grandmother, too.’ You don’t separate the child from the grandmother.” Keel placed them in one of the Children’s Center’s family shelters. “I had the authorities all over me. I had to prove that I had properly trained the grandmother to properly care for the child she had raised since an infant.”
The organization now serves more than a thousand children each year. At any given time, thirty or more of them are immigrants. They live with Keel, or at a shelter near his house, or with a local volunteer family. Keel enlists lawyers to argue their immigration cases, helps navigate the public-education system, and patches together the money to cover their college educations, often dipping into his own savings. Most shelters send kids to immigration detention centers on their eighteenth birthday, the moment they’re considered an adult. Keel allows people to stay at the Children’s Center indefinitely. “The danger is after eighteen, not before eighteen,” Keel said. “You are somewhat protected before eighteen, at least legally. After eighteen, they’re in no man’s land.”
Some immigrant shelters have up to a thousand beds under a single roof; it’s a point of pride for Keel that none of the Children’s Center residences has more than sixteen beds. “We have settings that are more home-like,” Keel said. At one point, I asked him what he found most challenging about looking after so many children. “Most of the difficulty is that people don’t understand why I would want to do what I do for these young people,” he said. “They question, or think it’s wrong or odd or otherwise non-sensible to support these kids. That’s the most frustrating part.”
In the early twentieth century, thousands of immigrants, mostly European Jews, first entered America through the Port of Galveston, which was sometimes called the Ellis Island of the West. The city remains diverse. In 2017, the mayor officially declared Galveston a “Welcoming City” for undocumented immigrants. But, that same year, the Galveston County sheriff’s office entered a partnership with ICE that allows its officers to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest. Keel is always warning the kids, especially the teens, to be polite and discreet when they venture outside of Children’s Center facilities. “They’re normal kids, and they want to do normal risk-taking behaviors,” Keel said. “But they can’t afford to.”
Keel and his wife, Jane, live in a suburb of Galveston, and often receive anonymous phone calls at home. “They’ll call and say, ‘You shouldn’t be taking care of them,’ ” he told me. In 2016, an anonymous tipster accused Keel of sexual abuse. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services suspended all referrals to Children’s Center, and removed children from its residences, until its investigation was complete. The department’s report found no evidence of wrongdoing. Keel suspects that the tipster was a member of the community who disapproved of the organization’s work with immigrants. “There’s a fundamental hatred of people of color,” he said.
Kelvin sat beside Keel all day. He had been at the Children’s Center for six months, and mostly kept to himself. He was now a junior in high school but had little interest in making friends. Everyone at his new school assumed he was Mexican. “People don’t want to know who you are,” he told me. And what was the point, anyway, he added, considering that he could be deported at any moment. “I like being alone,” he told me. “I don’t understand why I am like that.” On the phone, his mom urged him to do whatever he could to stay in the U.S. She had settled in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second-largest city. Gangs controlled her neighborhood, and they targeted young men like Kelvin. She told him that, if he returned, he’d be dead before he turned twenty. Kelvin worried about her. “She says she’s fine,” he told me. “But I don’t know if it’s true or fake or what.”
During the Obama Administration, the Children’s Center had a contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or O.R.R., the government agency in charge of housing immigrants who are undocumented and underage. Before 1997, when a federal settlement required the government to establish special facilities for minors awaiting verdicts on their cases, children were often sent to detention, where they might sleep four or more to a room and share bathroom facilities with the entire inmate population. O.R.R.’s mission was to create more humane alternatives, in which children could attend school and enjoy more freedoms while their cases were in process.
Its facilities, though, were never intended for long-term stays. In 2014, the year that Kelvin’s mom was deported, Border Patrol arrested seventy thousand border crossers under the age of eighteen—nearly twice as many as the year before. Since then, immigration courts have been gridlocked. Most unaccompanied minors petition for what’s known as Special Immigrant Juvenile status, or S.I.J., a permanent visa for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected, but the application process takes years. “Kids are waiting an indeterminate amount of time,” Nithya Nathan-Pineau, the director of the Detained Children’s Program at CAIR, an immigrant-rights group in D.C., told me. O.R.R. is authorized to release these children to a family member or guardian, but for many of them no such person exists. Teen-age boys, in particular, tend to have a much harder time finding an adult willing to sponsor them.
Shortly after taking office, Donald Trump requested significant cuts to refugee-resettlement efforts, and O.R.R. reduced its number of available beds from ninety-seven hundred to sixty-four hundred. The Children’s Center was among a number of organizations whose O.R.R. contracts were not renewed. (A spokesperson at O.R.R. told me that the Children’s Center’s application was rejected due to the allegations made against Keel the previous year.) During the Obama Presidency, ninety per cent of children in O.R.R. were released to a sponsor. The Trump Administration has made the process of uniting children with their families more difficult. In the spring of 2018, for example, O.R.R. began sharing sponsors’ fingerprints and other personal information with ICE, giving undocumented adults reason to fear stepping forward. As a result, that December, there were fifteen thousand children in O.R.R. custody, the highest number ever recorded, and the A.C.L.U. has repeatedly sued the Administration for unlawfully detaining children. (There are currently twelve thousand and eight hundred children in O.R.R. custody.) The agency is running out of space. The Trump Administration has reportedly considered housing migrant children at various military bases, including Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Children released to a guardian or sponsor are not allowed to work while their cases are pending. “If you can’t work because you don’t have your legal status, how are you going to eat?” Keel said. “The answer is you’re not. The system is built in a way that most of these young people will end up in adult detention.” He wants the kids at the Children’s Center to have a sense of freedom; he believes that testing boundaries and making mistakes are a part of growing up, not a privilege of citizenship. “We’re trying to capture part of their childhood that they never had,” he says. This means that Keel spends a fair amount of time wrangling teen-agers, like two kids who recently smoked weed and felt so paranoid that they asked Keel to take them to a doctor. (They were fine.)
Keel sometimes talks about scaling his system into a national network of volunteer host families. “Protecting these young people is a natural thing,” he says, “except that we have unnatural times.” Without the O.R.R. contract, though, he has been forced to dip into his own savings even more, while also moving resources from other Children’s Center initiatives to the immigrant program, to keep it afloat. “It’s robbing Peter to save Paul,” Keel told me. “You have to walk quietly and do everything you normally do and just don’t say when it’s about immigrants.”
A judge in Houston had approved Kelvin’s S.I.J. petition, and he was awaiting final approval from the Department of Homeland Security. His lawyer told him that this final step could take anywhere between one and three years. Kelvin was living with a local pastor, whose daughter, in her twenties, lived in the house with her toddler son. The foster family, whom Keel found through Child Protective Services, was polite but distant. The best part of Kelvin’s week was Sunday, when Keel would take him out for a few hours. They’d get a burger, or see a movie. After Keel brought him to a screening of the original “King Kong,” Kelvin couldn’t stop talking about how much better it was than the 2005 version, how everything was more beautiful in black-and-white.
Keel would also take Kelvin to the Transitional Living Program, the Children’s Center dorm for kids who are eighteen and older. He wanted Kelvin to spend time with Cesar, who ran the T.L.P.’s front desk. Cesar had immigrated from Honduras when he was sixteen years old, and had lived in the T.L.P. as he finished high school. He was then a permanent U.S. resident, enrolled as an engineering student at a nearby community college, and lived with his wife and young daughter a few blocks from the T.L.P. (He has since gained full citizenship.) They were also a host family for the Children’s Center and often had one or two Central American kids sleeping in their living room. Many of the organization’s host families are people like Cesar and his wife, beneficiaries of the Children’s Center who have settled in the area and feel indebted to Keel. Kelvin was slightly reassured by Cesar, but mostly he felt anxious about his case. He felt that he could handle almost anything if only he knew how much longer it would take.
One day, after English class, a girl walked up to Kelvin and started talking to him as if they’d known each other for years. They started texting—about school and movies and music. Her family was from Honduras, and her mom often cooked baleadas, one of Kelvin’s favorite dishes. Soon, they started dating. They joked about having a baby and naming it Pepperoni if it was a boy or Granata—pomegranate—if it was a girl. Kelvin, who had long fantasized about having a child, was drawn to the permanency of fatherhood. Friends and girlfriends came and went, he thought, but a son or a daughter would be in his life forever. They rarely used protection, so they weren’t surprised when her period was late.
Her father offered Kelvin a job at his auto-body shop, expecting Kelvin to drop out of high school and support his family. Keel did not approve. Kelvin, who was then seventeen years old, would be working illegally; if ICE caught him, he’d be deported. One night on Facebook, Kelvin started chatting with a car salesman living near McAllen, Texas, on the border with Mexico. At first, they talked about cars. Gradually, Kelvin told the salesman, whom I’ll call Enrique, about his situation. Enrique invited him to work at his dealership in McAllen for a few months; Kelvin could save up a bit of money before the baby arrived. He e-mailed Kelvin a bus ticket.
Kelvin left for McAllen a few days later. On the bus, his phone buzzed with texts from Keel—“Please let me know you’re ok, hijo”—but Kelvin didn’t respond. Enrique lived in a two-story house with his wife and sister. Kelvin had his own room, with a bed so soft it was like sleeping on a cloud. On one of his first days, Kelvin sold a refurbished Audi to a young woman, and Enrique rewarded him with two hundred dollars in cash. “You’re a good talker!” Enrique said. Kelvin called Keel after about a week. He was safe, Kelvin told him. He had made some good friends.
It was toward the end of Kelvin’s second week in McAllen that Enrique showed him his gun collection; he had shotguns and a semi-automatic, Kelvin recalls. A few days later, Enrique walked downstairs holding a bag of cocaine. He told Kelvin that he worked for a cartel, and that Kelvin could make a lot of money if he joined them. The next time that Kelvin was alone, he called Keel. “They’re asking me to do things I don’t want to do,” he whispered. Keel arrived a few hours later. Kelvin was waiting for him in a quiet, rundown neighborhood. He told Keel that no one had hurt him. They were nice people, he said. Keel wanted to ask why Kelvin had run away, but Keel’s first rule is “Never ask why.” He believes “why” questions cause a child to feel judged, which makes the relationship seem conditional. All that mattered was that Kelvin was safe.
His foster father, however, was furious, and asked Child Protective Services to place Kelvin with a different family. He was staying with Keel temporarily when his son was born, in March of 2016. He was named Osman. Kelvin was overwhelmed with love, just as he had imagined. But his relationship with his girlfriend soon fell apart, after Kelvin cheated on her. He swore it wasn’t serious and tried to win to his girlfriend back. “I sent her letters and all that stuff,” he said. “It was hard, hard, hard.” She quickly started dating an older guy, who worked at a petrochemical plant, and they moved to Louisiana with Osman. (Osman’s mother did not want to speak with me for this story.) “I was crying night and day,” Kelvin told me. “This is gonna kill me.”
At least once a month, Keel visits the Houston Contract Detention Facility, a prison-like center for detained immigrants. There’s often at least one teen from the Children’s Center there, picked up by the cops for various minor offenses. The day I went with Keel, he was visiting Jason, a nineteen-year-old who had been arrested for underage drinking and was now facing deportation. Jason is H.I.V.-positive, and his lawyer had filed a political-asylum case, arguing that he would be persecuted in Honduras because of his illness. We found a free booth in the visitation room. A few minutes later, Keel spotted Jason on the other side of the Plexiglas wall. His orange scrubs hung loose on his narrow frame. He grinned at the sight of Keel.
“Hola, hijo,” Keel said, into the receiver. “Your smile looks good.”
“I am happy to see you,” Jason said. He had a high, boyish voice.
Keel asked Jason if he was getting enough to eat, if he was sleeping, if he was getting his medicine. Jason nodded. He was safe, he said, but “it’s ugly. I sit here watching other people get deported, and I’m so scared because I don’t know what’s going on.”
CoreCivic, a private security company that operates the Houston Contract Detention Facility and seven other immigration detention centers, has seen its stock price nearly double since Trump won the election. Immigration arrests went up by more than thirty per cent in 2017, and a leaked Trump Administration memo from February, 2017, revealed plans to increase the number of immigration-detention beds in the U.S. from thirty-four thousand to eighty thousand. Attorney General William Barr recently announced that individuals seeking asylum after crossing the border would have to wait out their cases in detention and would not be eligible for bail. Immigrants forced to endure long waiting periods while in custody are far more likely to opt for deportation; in 2018, applications for voluntary deportations doubled from the previous year.
Keel assured Jason that his case was strong. As a precaution, though, he’d reached out to shelters and H.I.V. clinics in San Pedro Sula. Keel regularly keeps tabs on kids long after they leave the Children’s Center. He often makes trips to Honduras, to visit the boys who have been deported, including Jhonny, who was caught smoking pot in a friend’s car, and Victor, a nineteen-year-old who was arrested for riding his bike in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Junior and Marlin have both left Texas. (Junior’s immigration hearing is scheduled for the fall of 2020.) They all stay in touch with Keel. Victor calls every week from Honduras; “I like to hear his voice,” Victor told me. Keel often wires him thirty dollars to cover his expenses—and, Keel hopes, to counter any temptation to join a gang. At the detention center, Keel told Jason that, if he got deported, “it would be O.K. I’d come see you.” As we left, Keel told me, “You’re seeing the lucky ones. They have someone.” (Jason has since won his asylum case.)
Kelvin, who had just turned eighteen, was now permanently living at Keel’s house along with two other teen-agers, Marcos and Maicol, who were also from Honduras. Like Kelvin, they had applied for S.I.J. and were waiting on the approval of the Department of Homeland Security. Marcos was seventeen, chatty and curious, and still a sophomore in high school. His mom died when he was nine years old, and he started doing odd jobs for the manager of a circus in exchange for food and shelter. (He can still balance a chair on his chin.) A few years later, he made his way to the U.S. border and was arrested shortly after crossing. Maicol was sixteen, and far more quiet, spending most of his time playing video games on his PlayStation. (He had several user names but often played as “Donaltrump.”) He was arrested along with his mother and sister, in 2014, while crossing into the U.S. Border Patrol took his mom away and deported her. (The Obama Administration had no set policy of separating families at the border, and officials say that such incidents were rare.)
Marcos and Maicol shared the upstairs bedroom, while Kelvin slept on a couch in the living room. Most nights, Keel’s wife, Jane, cooked them dinner. She and Keel have three adult children, and Jane would spend most weekdays caring for her grandchildren, while her daughter was at work. She admired her husband’s generosity, but she found her young house guests exhausting. “I’m too old to raise teen-agers,” she told me. She also worried that her husband gave too much of himself. He bought iPhones for Marcos, Maicol, and Kelvin—which allowed them to stay in touch with family back in Honduras—but he refused to update his car, an old Kia Optima with a broken windshield.
Kelvin often stayed up until four or five in the morning, when the house was quiet. He wrote long passages in his journal on love and relationships, integrity and manhood. He listened to audiobooks of “Don Quixote” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and watched old movies online, especially anything with Humphrey Bogart, and instructional videos on body language, outdoor survival, and other topics. Though he used to have dreams about directing films, he now wanted to join the Army or the Marines, if his papers ever came through. He researched the exercises required for basic training on YouTube and tried to do a similar regimen on his own, sometimes carrying a backpack filled with weights around Keel’s neighborhood. But he was also painfully aware that the scenes of his current life in Texas—people driving to work, supporting their children—might never be available to him. On weekends, he often slept into the afternoon; after he graduated from high school, he started sleeping late on weekdays, too. Marcos would wake him and say, “You shouldn’t sleep for eleven hours!”
In April of 2017, Marcos received his Social Security card and work permit, which meant he could work and apply for a driver’s license. A few months later, Keel called to tell me that Marcos had been caught sharing a joint with some friends outside of school. He had forgotten his Social Security card at home and was taken to the Houston Contract Detention Facility. Marcos called me from inside the facility a few days later. His voice, normally loud and mischievous, was at a whisper. The other inmates terrified him, he said, and he was hungry, having eaten oatmeal for his last three meals. A couple days later, he called to say he was doing better. He had been transferred to a less dangerous section, and his cellmate was teaching him card tricks. He was, however, bored—the TV was set to Fox News—and asked me what I’d been doing. I told him I’d seen a movie the night before, “Lady Bird.” I offered a quick summary, but he kept asking more questions. I ended up telling him the whole plot.
“So she just grows up?”
“Basically,” I said.
“How is that a movie?” he said.
Keel and Kelvin picked up Marcos from detention the following week. His lawyer, who works at a large Houston firm and takes on the occasional pro-bono immigration case, had called the center several times a day, demanding his release. “He’s a beyond lucky dude,” his lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, texted me. Marcos shrieked with happiness as he walked into the parking lot. In the car, he was in a bouncy mood, excited to show off the card tricks he learned. Keel had prepared a lecture, but Kelvin beat him to it. “You need to stop doing stupid things,” he said.
Kelvin spoke with his mom almost every day. During the summer of 2017, she was living in Reynosa, a Mexican city along the border. She had hoped to cross into America from there, but ultimately decided to return to Honduras. They’d been apart for three years, and Kelvin asked to go back with her. Reynosa was across the bridge from McAllen, where he had lived for a few weeks the previous year. His mom had always encouraged him to fight for his American residency, but something in his voice must have broken her resolve. She said she couldn’t wait to see him. One night in August, Kelvin snuck out of Keel’s house, caught a ride with a friend to Houston, and boarded a bus headed toward the border. At the bridge into Mexico, he walked along the edge of traffic, gazing down on the Rio Grande. He was halfway across when he stopped and texted Keel: “I want to come home.”
At the time, Keel was in Corpus Christi with Ryan, a thirty-eight-year-old former resident of the Children’s Center who had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Keel asked Lexer, one of his case workers, to make the six-hour drive to McAllen. Lexer is also from Honduras, and had lived at the T.L.P. during high school. He was now getting a master’s degree in social work and often came by Keel’s house when he needed help on a term paper. Lexer texted Kelvin, in Spanish, “Just hang there, hang tight, I’m coming for you.” Kelvin texted him every hour: “Estás cerca?”—“You close?” Lexer picked him up at a Valero gas station, where Kelvin was sitting on the curb, staring into space. On the ride back to Galveston, Lexer told Kelvin, “You want to stay here. You don’t want to go back to Honduras. We’re all better off here than somewhere else.”
I saw Kelvin a few weeks later. We went to a Whataburger, where he ordered a Monterey Melt, a cheeseburger with grilled peppers and onions, and picked off all the vegetables before he took a bite. Kelvin was still tempted to return to Honduras—he only had ten American contacts stored in his iPhone. But he also fantasized about what his life in the U.S. might look like if he did earn a green card. He had a journal full of blueprints for an international security firm, including dozens of possible logos and several drafts of its mission statement. He’d wear a three-piece suit every day—“like Humphrey Bogart”—and the Honduran President would pay him millions of dollars to bring peace and security to the country. He’d buy a white Rolls-Royce and a mansion in Miami or Los Angeles, where he’d live with his mother and son. “I want my baby to say, ‘Hey, Dad, I want to go to your house. I want to go somewhere with you.’ ”
Kelvin’s lawyer had assured him that his work permit would arrive before the end of 2018. He’s still waiting. “I don’t have patience, but I don’t have another option,” Kelvin told me. His ex-girlfriend and Osman returned to Texas late last year. Kelvin applied for custody; he now gets visits with his son every other weekend. He has a new girlfriend, a preschool teacher, and they recently took Osman to the Houston Zoo. The other thing keeping him in Texas was Keel. “He’s given me a lot of things,” Kelvin said. “A lot, a lot, a lot of things.” At one point, Kelvin had told me that he aspired to be as wise as Barack Obama, as fearless as Vladimir Putin, and as kind as Terry Keel. “Put those three people in a blender,” Kelvin said, “and that’s who I want to be.”
The Children’s Center was recently involved in a tragic incident. This fall, two American children drowned off the coast of Galveston while under the supervision of a staff member. There was a “red flag” warning on the beach that day. In February, one of the children’s mothers sued the Children’s Center, seeking a million dollars in damages. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is deciding whether to shut down the Multicultural Institute, a Children’s Center subsidiary that employed the staffer at the beach that day. “I can’t tell you how bad it feels,” Keel said.
In the meantime, Keel is headed back to Honduras to meet with farm owners who might employ deported teens. Keel wants the kids to work outside of the city, as far away from the gangs as possible. Maicol, who received his Green Card last year, hopes to accompany him; he recently got “James Keel” tattooed, in cursive, on his right bicep. Kelvin, who is now twenty, will have to stay in Texas. He spends a few days a week volunteering at the T.L.P., cleaning the shared bathrooms and hallways. Sometimes, he talks to the other residents about their cases. They tell him that they’re bored, that they’re desperate to work. “We’re all better off here,” Kelvin tells them, “than somewhere else.”