Around 500 unaccompanied children are crossing the southern U.S. border every day, many seeking asylum from violence in Central America. Periodic upticks in immigration by unaccompanied minors aren’t new. They also happened under the Trump and Obama administrations.
But the Biden administration faces the unique challenge of rebooting an immigration and asylum system largely halted under former President Donald Trump. Border Patrol facilities have been housing children, way beyond their capacity, in facilities that aren’t meant for long-term stays. And the federal government is now looking to alternative sites like convention centers and even military bases to house the children until they can be reunited with family or sponsors here in the United States.
One of those sites is the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, where about 2,000 teen boys are currently staying. Diane Solis is an immigration reporter for The Dallas Morning News. She says that though reporters aren’t allowed inside, volunteers tell her they’re trying to keep the kids’ spirits up during a difficult time.
“I think that it saddens people to see vulnerable children, teen boys, without their parents, without relatives,” Solis told Texas Standard. “People understand the trauma of the journey from Guatemala or from Honduras through Mexico. … It can be tremendously treacherous. And they’re not in a home; they’re in the convention center.”
Volunteers have brought crayons and card games for the boys, and they appear to be eating well, too, she says. The Dallas Mavericks basketball team visited and donated basketballs and hoops. And someone even donated several ukuleles, which some of the boys are learning to play.
Solis says the first priority of those running the site – a combination of staff from U.S. Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Catholic Charities of Dallas – is to reunite the boys with family or sponsors. Even Republicans who have been critical of the Biden administration have praised those groups’ performance, Solis says.
Still, the full picture is unclear since journalists can’t get inside to speak with the children. Solis says “so far, it’s a no go.”