Texas lawmaker says it’s time to stop ‘warehousing’ immigrant children

Published on Sunday, 20 July 2014 17:39 - Written by

immig overload 1 In this photo taken July 4, 2014, eight-year-old Gabby, of El Salvador, peaks into a city shuttle bus as she waits for her mother and sister after they and other immigrants and their children were released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services at the city bus station in McAllen, Texas. About 90 Hondurans a day cross illegally from Mexico into the U.S. at the Rio Grande near McAllen, according to the Honduran Consulate, and the families are then brought to Central Station in McAllen and each is released on their own recognizance. Though most travelers have enough money to purchase their own bus tickets to meet family in cities across the U.S., many have nowhere to stay before the buses leave, and most are in need of rest, medical attention and sustenance. It falls to the local government and charities to welcome the uninvited visitors to America. Tens of thousands have also fled to the U.S. from El Salvador and Guatemala to escape violence. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez)
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Texas is running out of room to house the thousands of Central American children who illegally crossed the border.

And Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, says the solution is not to continue piling them into bus stations and other makeshift shelters — including unused schools in North Texas — as officials try to find the best way to return the children safely to their families in countries as far away as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“I’m having a real problem with what we are doing with these children,” said Granger, who is leading a select group of Republican lawmakers studying the border crisis. “These children look just dazed.

“Some of those kids are being moved as many as three times a day and they don’t know where they are,” she said. “How do we deal with this?”

Granger, whose group’s recommendations on what should be done are expected to be made public as soon as Tuesday, has traveled with other congressional leaders to Guatemala, Honduras and the Texas border to see the growing humanitarian crisis firsthand.

She has found children sleeping by the hundreds on tile floors in bus stations — or crowded 20 or 30 to a room at military bases — as Border Patrol officials try to find better places for them, especially if they have relatives in this country.

The cost of housing children who have journeyed here across Texas’ border with Mexico ranges from $200 to $800 per child per day, and the federal government is responsible for picking up the tab.

Texas leaders have long called for the White House to secure the border, but reports show that the steady stream of people illegally crossing the border to find safety in the United States has become a flood — especially of unaccompanied children — and has topped 57,000 since October.

“We have filled up the spots in Texas and they are looking at places in Maine and Washington state — wherever they can find the space,” Granger said.

It’s time to stop “warehousing” the children and “work with them humanely to keep them safe,” she said.

Last month, top Texas officials signed off on a plan to spend $1.3 million a week to combat the problem, directing Texas Department of Public Safety officials to proceed with surge operations to secure the border through at least the end of the calendar year.

In Washington, President Barack Obama has asked Congress to allocate $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help with the crisis.

And Texas leaders have traveled to the border, prompting Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, last week to propose the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency Act to reform current law, speed the deportations of Central American children and ensure their safety while they are here.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented crisis,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said in a recent video message sent to constituents in his district. “The recent influx … is staggering.”

Burgess and others oppose amnesty. Others, including Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, urge colleagues to overhaul the immigration system.

“We need to put politics aside and work together to pass a fair immigration plan for the 21st century that honors this country’s history as the land of opportunity, justice and equality for all,” Vesey has said.

Granger said the solution to the crisis may be as complex as the problem itself.

“I’m trying to tell people what the situation is,” she said. “People are really angry and they don’t understand how this happened.”

As Granger traveled to the border, she saw children crowded into makeshift shelters.

Hundreds slept on bus station floors; dozens crowded into rooms at military bases, sleeping in rooms with metal beds and metal lockers.

Volunteers work around the clock to feed and care for the children.

“It was a horrible situation,” she said.

When she and other congressional leaders visited Honduras and Guatemala recently, the first question they asked leaders there was, “Do you want your children back?”

“They were adamant, of course, that they want their children back,” Granger said. “So we wanted to know how we can help them with that.”

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