- May 23, 2014
- By Ken Camp / Managing Editor
BROWNSVILLE—At the request of federal authorities, Texas Baptist Men disaster relief volunteers are providing temporary emergency care and other services for unaccompanied children from Latin America who entered the United States without documentation.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency contacted TBM to request assistance in dealing with a sudden influx of unattended minors to the United States, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Authorities detained the undocumented children and teenagers temporarily at an emergency shelter in Brownsville.
“We believe this is God’s invitation to us,” TBM Executive Director Don Gibson told the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board.
Twenty TBM volunteers set up the statewide temporary emergency childcare unit in Brownsville, along with shower and laundry mobile units from Second Baptist Church in LaGrange, Austin Baptist Association and from Northeast Texas Disaster Response.
The New York Times reported border authorities in South Texas had 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.
Subsequently, the Department of Health & Human Services established a shelter for up to 1,000 minors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio 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 such as Baptist Child & Family Services 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 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.
Editor's Note: The fourth paragraph was edited May 27 to add additional information.