By Ken Camp
Baptist volunteers along the U.S.-Mexican border are providing temporary emergency care and other services for a sudden flux of unaccompanied children from Latin America who entered the United States without documentation.
Federal authorities detained the undocumented children and teenagers — primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — temporarily at an emergency shelter in Brownsville, Texas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency subsequently contacted the Texas Baptist Men disaster relief ministry, which set up a temporary emergency child care unit in Brownsville.
“We believe this is God’s invitation to us,” TBM Executive Director Don Gibson said.
The New York Times reported border authorities in South Texas have been overwhelmed by a surge of young illegal immigrants who traveled to the United States without their parents. The Department of Homeland Security termed the situation a crisis and declared a level-four alert, which allows officials to call for resources from other agencies.
The Department of Health & Human Services established a shelter for up to 1,000 minors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and began transporting the undocumented children and youth there from the Rio Grande Valley, 275 miles away.
Unaccompanied minors who enter the United States illegally from countries other than Mexico must be transferred within 72 hours to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of Health & Human Services. About 400 children a day are moving through the Fort Brown Station in Brownsville before transfer to San Antonio, TBM officials reported.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement works with nonprofit agencies to provide the young people shelter, counseling, case management and education. Officials seek to locate relatives or other adult custodians in the United States to care for them while the courts settle their immigration cases.
In 2011, Border Patrol apprehended about 4,000 unaccompanied youth who entered the United States illegally. They have already surpassed the projected number for this year — 60,000.
Many authorities attribute the surge in unaccompanied minor immigrants to gang violence in Central America, and some report “coyotes” — human smugglers — are marketing their services aggressively with promises of blanket amnesty once children reach the United States.