Number of teen migrants rises at Dallas emergency shelter as volunteers step up to help

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About 1,750 boys are now being held at the emergency migrant shelter at the Dallas convention center, and volunteers say they’re doing well and seem to be relieved to be in their care.

“The kids are safe, they are dry and they are fed,” said Dave Woodyard, the CEO of Catholic Charities of Dallas, which is helping organize volunteers. “They are on a path to get reunited or into a permanent shelter and having a much better life ahead of them.”

Most of the teenagers are from Central America, sent to the hastily prepared “decompression center” from overcrowded federal facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border. As many as 2,300 are expected at Dallas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and it is only one of a handful of shelters being opened to handle the overflow.

An existing emergency site in Carrizo Springs, southwest of San Antonio, is increasing its size to hold up to 1,200 people, federal officials confirmed Tuesday.

“This is going to go on for weeks, maybe months. It’s a saga, and sagas are never quick.” Woodyard said.

Ramping up the temporary shelter at the Dallas convention center in less than a week required a team effort, the hiring of contractors and careful vetting of volunteers, he said.

Volunteers who had visited with the young immigrants say some of the children appear depressed, others relieved.

“These kids have been through a lot of trauma,” said Irene Mugambi, a Dallas lawyer who heads the multistate regional chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They want to live their lives like any human being. We have to be there to comfort them.”

Though Mugambi, now a volunteer, has represented unaccompanied minors in federal immigration court, she said legal services aren’t the priority in the opening week of the center.

“Right now, the kids really need people who can volunteer and comfort them,” Mugambi said.

A small shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe has gone up near the dinner area, brought by Bishop Edward Burns of the Dallas diocese this week. Hoops and basketballs have been donated by the Dallas Mavericks. Colored pencils, crayons and drawing paper have been supplied to help the boys pass the time. Tamales, spaghetti and meat loaf fill lunch and supper plates.

Under law, federal immigration authorities are required to transfer unaccompanied children to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. But that’s been impossible because of the rising numbers of children. There’s no telling how long some of the children may remain at the Dallas shelter, although authorities originally said it would be open for only 90 days.

The Dallas site can hold up to 2,300 persons, HHS spokesman Mark Weber said on Monday. Originally, authorities said up to 3,000 children would be placed there.

Another temporary shelter opened in a converted oilfield workers’ camp in Midland, where the Associated Press reported last week that a COVID-19 outbreak affected about 10 percent of the youths.

HHS didn’t respond to emails Tuesday about whether any of the youths in Dallas had tested positive for COVID-19. But the agency has said it is prepared.

Under law, federal immigration authorities are required to transfer unaccompanied children to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. But that’s been impossible because of the rising numbers of children. There’s no telling how long some of the children may remain at the Dallas shelter, although authorities originally said it would be open for only 90 days.

The Dallas site can hold up to 2,300 persons, HHS spokesman Mark Weber said on Monday. Originally, authorities said up to 3,000 children would be placed there.

Another temporary shelter opened in a converted oilfield workers’ camp in Midland, where the Associated Press reported last week that a COVID-19 outbreak affected about 10 percent of the youths.

HHS didn’t respond to emails Tuesday about whether any of the youths in Dallas had tested positive for COVID-19. But the agency has said it is prepared.

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