Among those children are Jose Maquez Soto, 12, who came from
Honduras to the United States and now rests on a bunk at Lackland
Air Force Base in San Antonio under a hand-drawn flag of his native
country and a message cheering the Honduran squad in the upcoming
soccer World Cup.
Jose is one of the 60,000 "unaccompanied minors" - children under 18
- that the Obama administration estimates will enter the United
States illegally this year. It projects that number to grow to
nearly 130,000 next year, creating what the White House describes as
an "urgent humanitarian situation."
Nearly 1,000 of the minors at a time are being sheltered at a
facility built about 50 years ago to house new recruits for basic
training. The boys and girls will pass along corridors with faded
Air Force pictures and new signs written in Spanish that point the
way to the dining hall and bathrooms. Since the facility opened
three weeks ago, 1,820 children have passed through the center.
About 850 have been released to a vetted family member or a sponsor,
said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Jesus
Garcia. The person who takes the child, Garcia says, has to agree to
bring the child to an immigration hearing.
The minors flooding over the border are often teenagers leaving
behind poverty or violence in Mexico and other parts of Central
America such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They are
sometimes seeking to reunite with a parent who is already in the
United States, also without documentation.
Another facility for minors will open at Naval Base Ventura County
in Southern California that will hold a maximum of 600 children.
[to top of second column]
At Lackland, the children between the ages of 12 and 17 are handed
several sheets and towels when they arrive and checked for lice and
scabies. They then undergo physical and mental health evaluations,
and are assigned a metal bunk from among the rows that line the
walls of large barracks-style rooms.
There is little need for storage because, as social workers put it,
few of these children arrived with anything other than the clothes
they wore on their journey north. The administration estimates it
costs taxpayers $252 per child per day.
"The reasons, as we understand them, that contribute to this
dramatic increase have to do with economic conditions in those
countries, sustained violence in these countries, and the desire of
these children to be reunited with family members in the United
States," Celia Munoz, the White House Domestic Policy Adviser said.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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