The first round of unaccompanied children, as they’re legally defined, arrived at Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center on Friday.
Though it’s unclear how many exactly arrived the first day, 500 Central American teenagers ages 13-17 are expected to be housed there in stages for the next 21 days as they go through the legal process of a court-hearing to determine whether they’ll be sent back to their point of origin or reconnected with family or a sponsor on this side of the U.S. border. About 200 workers arrived Thursday afternoon to help care for the children and get the facility ready.
Only three days prior did county, state and local officials learn the children were coming to the private camp, owned and operated as part of the ministry of the North Texas District of Assemblies of God. The church group, a nonprofit, OK’d the resettlement after an influx of children flooded the south Texas border trying to escape violence in their countries, according to previous Daily Light articles. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), partnered with the Baptist Child and Family Services (BCFS) nonprofit, reached out to the district officials Monday, trying to find somewhere to put them while they were waiting on hearings.
“The facility was chosen based on availability and ability to use the facility as a temporary shelter,” stated Andrea Helling, the acting director for the Administration for Children and Families Office of Communications under the HHS, on Saturday in an email. “These factors include items such as safety and security requirements, the availability of staging areas for service delivery, kitchen and cafeteria facilities, other residential requirements such as showers and bathroom facilities, and the HVAC system.”
But the security of the camp put residents and local law enforcement on edge when news broke about the situation, causing the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office to scramble to develop a plan of action to keep the county secure. Sheriff Johnny Brown said he was upset about how little notification he received and he didn’t know about the undocumented teenagers until 5 p.m. Wednesday. He spent all night Wednesday calling local law enforcement to come up with a game plan.
As of Thursday, Brown made it clear in a press conference that local law enforcement had everything from the border of the Lakeview Camp outward under control. But little was known about what security precautions would be taken at the camp, except that the BCFS and HHS would handle and pay for all of the care inside the facility — including security.
“We feel very comfortable. We feel very safe. For the most part, these are just kids who have had very difficult lives and very difficult circumstances,” said Rick DeBose, the North Texas District of Assemblies of God superintendent, at the press conference. “The fact that our government chose to allow them to come across the border, and not immediately send them back. That we brought them in and said we’ve got to now do something with them, we didn’t feel like there was anyway we could turn them away and not care for them and feed them. We have the beds that are empty and the food that can be served and processed here, and it’s our slowest time of year, so we were very available. So we jumped on it and we’re honored to give these kids a place to live for the next three weeks. We pray for these kids that they will find the permanent direction and help they need and for what they need in the future. I know, as they’ve told us, many of them will return home, but we pray that while they’re with us, they’ll have a good experience that will change their lives forever.”
On Friday, the BCFS Human Services Emergency Management Division released a fact sheet detailing some of the measurements that would be taken, and also clarified the mission of the nonprofit’s work at the camp. On Thursday, Congressman Joe Barton revealed the BCFS was being paid $500 per a child per a day by the federal government to take care of the children, and at the press conference, the North Texas District of Assemblies of God officials stated they would receive some kind of reimbursement for allowing the use of the facility, but the amount was unknown as of press time.
“BCFS EMD is providing emergency response services at the request of the federal government,” stated the document. “This is not a tasking that BCFS Health and Human Services sought out. Nonetheless, we feel like our unique capabilities are the only current option for the federal government.”
The fact sheet directly stated the following about BCFS:
• The BCFS Emergency Management Division provides emergency management training and consultation for federal, state and local government and private businesses across the U.S. and specializes in specializes in emergency management, public health and medical emergency response, mass care, mass fatality planning, medical sheltering and planning for vulnerable populations.
• BCFS EMD personnel include professionals from the fields of emergency management, firefighting, law enforcement, public health, medical and mental health, disability policy and rights, legal professionals, research and policy and more.
• The organization has responded to many large scale incidents, including the Southeast Asia Tsunami; Haiti earthquake; Bastrop wildfires; hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Dolly, Gustav and Ike; the Texas Ebola incident; and, more recently, the Memorial Day floods in Wimberley.
• The organization was tasked on Dec. 7 to help with the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America.
• The operation at Lakeview, and other locations, entail 24-hour care, seven days a week from the date the children arrive.
• The contract to care for the children is based on a cost-reimbursement model, meaning funds are drawn directly when goods and services ordered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) are delivered by BCFS. The decision on what goods or services are provided rely entirely with the ORR.
• The children placed at Lakeview are primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
• Each Child is medically cleared for communicable diseases and is vaccinated in accordance with CDC guidelines prior to being placed in the shelter.
For continuing coverage of the unaccompanied children housed in Ellis County, visit www.waxahachietx.com.
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