Central American Kids Housed in North Texas Camps Over the Holidays

Kids will get Christmas parties, Santa Claus appearances and presents over the holidays.

By Rhonda FanningDecember 24, 2015 11:06 am, ,

Over the weekend, another group of unaccompanied children from Central America arrived in North Texas. This October and November, more than 10,000 of these unaccompanied minors crossed the border through Mexico, more than twice as many as the same months last year.

About 800 kids who entered the state in the past few weeks have been relocated to two different facilities in Ellis and Rockwall counties. A third may have to open soon.

NPR’s John Burnett has been following the story, the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for relocating the kids, is sending them to church camps that have been on the HHS shortlist as hurricane refugee overflow facilities. Most of the kids are between the ages of 12 and 17.

“They’re going to summer retreats (where) churches bring hundreds and hundreds of kids,” he says. “They have lakes and they have soccer and they have basketball.”

The kids are going to be treated to Christmas parties and Santa Claus appearances at the camps. There will be presents – mostly clothes and other necessities – and a meal of tamales.

“These are nice places,” Burnett says. “These church camps really are calling on their values of compassion and kindness and hospitality in the 21 days that these kids are at these camps. They really want to make them formative experiences.”

Burnett says there is still this push and pull for the undocumented children to come to the U.S., nothing has changed for their home situations, and so nothing has changed about the influx of immigrants.

“The crime-ridden cities in El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras – none of that has changed,” he says. “It’s just as dangerous for those kids to grow up there as it was a year and a half ago. The pull factors are the same. They want to reunify with their moms here in the states and they know that if they give themselves up to the border patrol, they’ll be processed.”

Immigration officials in Mexico have been cracking down on the undocumented immigrants before they reach the Texas border, Burnett says. They’ve been pulling kids off La Bestia – the train that runs through Central America – and buses.

The number did go down, Burnett says, but coyotes smuggling people across the border are smart and have been using alternative routes to get kids across the border.

Burnett says while some North Texas residents are okay with the camps, others have different reactions.

“Most of it has been to shrug their shoulders and to say ‘These are kids. They’re different from the adults who come here,’” he says. “Some people are still are upset about it.”

Burnett recently spoke to a commissioner in Ellis County. Burnett says the commissioner blames the “broken” immigration system.

“You shouldn’t have all these kids flooding the Texas border saying ‘Save us from our own countries,’” the commissioner told Burnett. “Maybe we shouldn’t have this magnet of all this generous treatment that we give them when they come across.”

To assuage some residents’ fears, there is tight security around the camps, Burnett says. “Nobody gets out, nobody gets in. So I think some of these concerns have been mollified,” he says.

The kids can only stay at the camps for 21 days, under Texas law. “Then they have to go to another facility – or better yet, they’ll be reunified with their loved ones here in the states,” Burnett says. “Whether their loved ones – their moms – are legal or illegal, they will get to join them.”