Lackland to close temp shelter for children

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This photo posted to Twitter by @CBPSouthTexas shows two Honduran girls aged 3 and 18 being rescued after they crossed the Rio Grande and got dehydrated and lost. Courtesy Photo

A temporary shelter that houses undocumented children at Lackland Air Force Base will wind down operations in two to eight weeks.

Late last week, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Executive Director Jonathan Ryan said staffers with the nonprofit had finished giving confidential legal screenings and “Know Your Rights” presentations to approximately 1,200 children.

“We’ve been told there are no pending children at Lackland and that it could be offline in 10 days to two weeks,” Ryan said.

In addition to Lackland Air Force Base, temporary shelters were also set up at Fort Sill Army Base (Oklahoma) and Naval Base Ventura County – Port Hueneme (California). The three facilities, which housed 7,700 children since opening in May, will suspend the temporary facilities.

However, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Public Affairs Deputy Director Kenneth J. Wolfe said officials will continue to look forward because of substantial uncertainty about “future flows of unaccompanied children.”

In Fiscal Year 2014, a total of 57,525 unaccompanied children crossed into the United States in the Southwest Sector, which encompasses Texas, California and the states in between. That’s a 106 percent increase, according to data collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In Fiscal Year 2013, 27,884 unaccompanied children crossed.

In the Rio Grande Sector, i.e. the Rio Grande Valley, 42,164 unaccompanied children crossed into the country, which represents a drastic 189 percent increase when compared to Fiscal Year 2013 when 14,565 unaccompanied children crossed. These numbers represent nearly 75 percent of total apprehensions involving unaccompanied children on the entire southwestern border for Fiscal Year 2014.

Wolfe said the temporary shelters closed because officials have seen a decrease in children crossing the border in recent weeks.

“In order to balance managing costs with limited available resources and remaining prepared for sudden increases in the number of children needing care, HHS’s Administration for Children and Families plans to continue caring for unaccompanied children through a combination of standard shelters and surge capacity shelters,” Wolfe said. “In the near-term, the three temporary shelters on military bases could be re-opened for a limited time if the number of children increases significantly.”

Typically, HHS cares for the children until they can release them to sponsors, who are usually family members, who care for the children while their cases wind through the judicial system.

According to data from the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, Texas has the highest number of children being cared for by sponsors while they await hearings with 4,280 children fitting that profile as of July 7. There are a total of 30,340 children in the United States who are being cared for by sponsors.

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