DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Hundreds of migrant teens have apparently begun arriving in North Texas and the big question is how the federal government will keep them safe.
The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas is opening as a temporary shelter.
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Shortly after 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 17, several charter buses pulled up outside the convention center.
They are believed to be carrying the young men who were detained at the southern border.
“It’s got to be a desperate situation,” said Chris Alvarez, who held a welcome sign outside the convention center Wednesday evening. “We’re here to show these kids that there are people who do care about them.”
Up to 3,000 teenage boys, thought to be fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, are being sent to Dallas to relieve overcrowding at holding facilities on the border.
“This is not just a law enforcement issue,” said Keith Owens, a former special agent with the Dept. of Homeland Security who now works as a senior lecturer in UTA’s Dept. of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “It’s a humanitarian issue, so everyone has to work together… I’d be very shocked if they don’t already have a plan in place to ensure the safety of these children.”
Red Cross workers spent Wednesday bringing in cots and portable bathrooms to turn the convention center into an intake site.
The plan is to take care of the minors before processing and releasing them to family members or into long-term federal care.
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“Most, if not all, have a family member in the United States,” said Dr. Bob Sandborn, CEO of Children At Risk, a Texas advocacy group. “This is why they take the big trek, because they usually have a mom or dad, uncle or aunt who are in the US.”
Governor Greg Abbott wants Texas DPS to step in and interview the minors to ensure they aren’t victims of human trafficking.
“Americans need to know how these children – some are young children – how they’re coming across the border and who is it that is helping these children come across the border,” he said.
The governor was in Dallas Wednesday and accused the Biden administration of “enticing” immigrant children to the U.S.
Dr. Sandborn says these kids are seeking asylum and aren’t likely to be victims of trafficking.
“They need to get to their families,” Dr. Sandborn said. “Let’s cut the bureaucratic tape and get them to their families.”
The temporary shelter could be operational for up to 90 days.
Federal officials say all of the minors sent there will be screened for COVID-19.
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“During these times, it’s really important to distinguish between short term and long term solution,” said Dr. Kent Kerley, professor and chair in the Dept. of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UTA. “I think first, let’s take care of the kids and then have a robust debate from all involved on the political side.”