Project description

After the Trump administration launched its zero-tolerance policy on the U.S.-Mexico border, chaos soon followed as thousands of immigrant children were separated from their parents or guardians. The fallout quickly became national news.

This policy led to mass separations of children from parents and quickly overwhelmed both the federal agencies tasked with carrying out the policy and the shelters and detention centers that had to take them in by the thousands. Most of those shelters are in Texas, and the state provides far more detailed information about them than the federal government.

Within days of this story breaking, The Texas Tribune\’s data visuals team mapped the location, population, and health, safety and abuse violations of every Texas shelter for migrant kids in near-realtime, the most detailed accounting that exists. We followed the data as the number of children in these shelters continued to increase after the end of the family separation policy, and we to update the tracker nearly a year later.

What makes this project innovative?

This project shows the value that local journalists and detailed investigative reporting can bring to a big breaking news story. While national outlets were scrambling to figure out where shelters were located and how many kids might be held there, The Tribune knew exactly which state agency to ask for the data. We presented it in a clean, simple way, and incorporated detailed reporting on the history of safety violations at some of the shelters. Now, it's easy for us to update the tracker each month and continue watching — unaccompanied minors are still crossing the border, and most of them end up in Texas shelters.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

This project saw many repeat visits from our engaged audience. We also shared the data with ProPublica and the Associated Press to help improve the accuracy of their databases. Now, when national interest in the family separation story has moved on, we are continuing to update our tracker and keep an eye on the safety record of these shelters.

Source and methodology

Once per month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission completes a census of the number of children living in federally funded, privately owned shelters. This data is not published publically, but we obtained it through an open records request. The state of Texas does not regulate the temporary Tornillo shelter, so we obtained information on the number of children there from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement via the Associated Press.

Technologies Used

This project is built on our in-house graphics development environment, which was created with Node.js. The data and text of the story are stored in Google Drive files which are link up to our development environment. The maps and charts are built in D3.

Project members

Ryan Murphy, Chris Essig, Edgar Walters, Julián Aguilar



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