SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Federal officials are making an Air Force base near San Antonio the temporary home of 100 unescorted children stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol because a network of contracted shelters is overwhelmed with more kids than it can accommodate.
The first of the children arrived at Lackland Air Force Base on Monday, the San Antonio Express-News reported. The children, apprehended at different times and locations, are under the charge of the Unaccompanied Children’s Services division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Lackland spokesman Brent Boller tells the newspaper that the base is “simply providing the temporary housing” in an unused 1,000-student dorm with showers and a dining hall.
HHS has taken in 7,000 to 8,000 illegal immigrant children in each of the past three years, but sheltered more than 4,000 since October. It has seen a 77 percent jump in the number of children in the first quarter of 2012.
“All anyone can do is speculate about what’s going on,” Lavinia Limon, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told the Express-News.
The children have been distributed among 10 states, where they receive government-provided housing, health care and psychiatric treatment. Nearly 9 of every 10 immigrant children are reunited with their families.
Unaccompanied children are not housed in immigrant detention centers, Linda Brandmiller, immigration services director for Catholic Charities in San Antonio.
Two-thirds of the children are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, while 12 percent are from Mexico. About 80 percent are boys, with 83 percent being older than 14.
Half of the children crossing the border are caught by the Border Patrol, Limon said. Most of those contacting her organization for help say they fled forced recruitment into gangs or prostitution, she said.
“The children are recruited quite early and it is very difficult for them to resist, and so the ones who don’t want to be part of those kinds of activities take off,” she said.
Organizations that receive government grants to care for the children at their own shelters will also oversee their care at Lackland, according to a statement from HHS.
“HHS appreciates the collaboration, cooperation and assistance of (the Department of Defense), (Department of Homeland Security) and state and local officials,” the statement said.
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