Tour: Lakeview Camp tending to needs of undocumented teens

CORRECTION: The spelling of the Superintendent for the North Texas District of Assemblies of God's last name is not spelled as DeBose. The correct spelling is DuBose. The article has been updated to reflect this change and the Daily Light apologizes for the error.

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If Rick DuBose could tell anyone anything about the 700 unaccompanied minors staying at the camp his organization operates, it would be that they’re being ministered to beyond just being fed and given a place to stay while they’re processed through the legal system.

“The first thing, of course, is providing the opportunity for them to be safe and comfortable and cared for,” said DuBose, the superintendent of the North Texas District of Assemblies of God. “We do regular church services on Sundays anyway, so we’ve invited the children to come to the services. Everybody showed up for the first weekend. We did it in Spanish and they had a great time. They purposely geared it to their ages, and they played and had fun with it. They sang songs — they sang Christmas carols, and they knew them all.”

He was one of several people leading a tour of the facility for media on Tuesday afternoon.

As reporters were escorted through the facility, camp officials took the time to clarify and reiterate misconceptions of facts for residents in the area and journalists alike.

Media was not allowed to do any recording of any type during the event, including audio, video and photography to protect the children. As of press time, the Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center near Maypearl was housing about 500 refugees, and that number was expected to rise to 700 by the end of the week. The children are between the ages of 12 and 17, and only 55 of them were female. Media was only allowed to have mineralized interaction with any of the children; the most media was requested to do is say hello if greeted.

The cost of the operation

One of the first stops on the tour involved a peak inside the operation’s command center.

The Baptist Child and Family Services (BCFS) was originally reported as being paid $500 per a day per a child at the camp, by Congressman Joe Barton (R-Ennis), according to a previous Daily Light article.

The BCFS incident commander, who asked media not to use his names for security purposes, said that’s not the case. He equated the BCFS to national nonprofit Baylor Scott & White, and said BCFS is the largest nonprofit corporation that provides medical shelters in the U.S. and the only organization that can pull together this kind of shelter so quickly, with the ability of setting up 5,000 medical shelter beds in the state of Texas if something like Hurricane Katrina happened again, where thousands were evacuated from their homes.

“Whatever the government allocated doesn’t mean the money comes from this agency,” he said. “It means it can be drawn from, it’s like a credit limit on your credit card.”

To operate the Lakeview camp as a temporary housing facility, the North Texas District of Assemblies of God is being paid $60 a day per a child, which is the normal rate the camp charges churches, DuBose said.

On top of that is the cost of the child care workers from a third party contractor, and all the medical staff from BCFS, he said. They are also being reimbursed for case management costs, food and lodging, the housing of medical responders and transportation, he said.

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, according to a fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If it’s not used, it’s not received, he said.

“At this particular time, Ellis County is not incurring any costs connected with the temporary housing of the minor children at the Lakeview Camp. As I’ve stated before, BCFS entered into a contract with a private security firm, which in turn, is utilizing Ellis County off-duty deputies,” Ellis County Judge Carol Bush stated in a release Tuesday afternoon. “Those deputies will be paid by the security firm.”

In fact, the total allocation amount from the government is about $12.5 to $12.9 million, or 1,400 beds for 30 days no matter where the children are, or $428 per child per day, the incident commander said.

The total cost for the operation in Ellis County by the federal government won’t truly be known until after the operation is over because variables expected to be used is still unclear, he said.

The Lakeview campgrounds

Divided up into age groups, the children were scattered through different areas of the camp, doing anything that an average child would do — play soccer, watch movies, learn crafts, do laundry, be with friends and see familiar faces. Federally run by the HHS, the camp is divided into several areas — the command center, the cabins, the intake area, the dining hall and the medical facility, said Andrea Helling, the acting director for the Office of Communications with the Administration for Children and Families under the HHS.

Helling said the amount rose from the originally reported number of 500 to 700 because of the need to house children from the influx at the south Texas border. A Rockwall camp similar to Lakeview will be receiving 300 by the end of the week, and Texas is scheduled to temporarily house 1,000 unaccompanied children overall, Helling said.

The children will stay at Lakeview for 21 days, Helling said, adding the 21-day limit is based on state licensing laws and that if the operation is needed longer, the children would be moved to another location and the camp would not be used again.

During the time here, the children, like thousands of others at the border, are waiting for a federal court hearing to determine whether they can be reunited with family in the U.S., taken in by a sponsor or sent back home to their point of origin.

The official 21-day countdown started Friday, and as of press time Tuesday, none of the children had left the camp for a hearing or been released to a sponsor, Helling said.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), once an unaccompanied child reaches the U.S. border, the child is processed, identified and verified through any credible documentation he or she can be, and undergoes an initial health screening and immigration processing to initiate removal proceedings. From there, the child has 72 hours to be transferred to a short term multi-agency center, where HHS provides a medical check, immunizations and shelter assignment. That medical check involves everything from the flu shot, lice inspections, scabies tests, pregnancy tests for females and HIV tests for those 12 years and older, said Gracie Gomez, who helps handle federal resettlement with the Administration of Children and Families, during the tour.

Then, the children are transferred to their permanent shelter by DHS, and the child remains in the HHS shelter until a sponsor can be identified or the child is placed with a relative in the U.S., pending the outcome of the court-hearing. Other locations for possible temporary camps include California, while permanent camp locations include group homes, renovated hotels and U.S. Department of Defense facilities, Helling said, adding a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) facility would typically be the step before a shelter like Lakeview.

But the border has seen such an influx of immigrants that a solution had to be found, she said. The ORR has legal responsibility to take care of the children during the legal process, she said. The ORR operates on a 12-state network, with most housing facilities being within 250 miles of the border. In October, the HHS had 7,900 beds within its facilities. By November, the HHS officials saw an uptick in the need for beds and expanded to about 8,500 beds, Helling said. In October and November, 10,000 children were apprehended by Border Patrol, she said, so HHS saw the need to expand the number of beds again, which brings the children to Ellis County today.

“This was the stopgap between our permanent facilities and the DOD,” Helling said, adding the average time in HHS care for a child is 30 days. “This was the temporary solution for needing beds quickly.”

The children staying in Ellis County come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, fleeing economic hardship and gang violence, Helling said. Most of the children were either smuggled in at the border, or surrendered there after arriving by themselves, Helling said.

“We just love them. Their smiles, that’s probably my favorite part — how they’re acting and reacting to us and that they seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves,” DuBose said. “I know they have so many pains in life, and have so much hurt. And right here, we’re doing our best to make sure this is a cocoon of happiness, and they’re responding. We just enjoy seeing the smiles on their faces.”

The vast majority of the children are placed with family or a sponsor, Helling said. Those who are not are sent back, she said. With about two and a half weeks left to go in the 21-day period, Helling reemphasized that the children in Ellis County will either be reunited with family or transferred to another location, though she did not say where for security purposes. If a child turns 18 during the process, the child is immediately deported back. Also, some of the children do have siblings on the site, but those who have a sibling under 12 years of age are not at the facility, Gomez said.

Security and care at Lakeview

Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown was on site the day the first bus of children arrived, he said.

The children are driven down to the multi-purpose facility, where they’re greeted by a line of staff ready to welcome them and double check their documentation, Helling said. On that first day, one child did not get off the bus, Brown said.

Brown said somewhere along the way, the teenager had turned 18 years of age. When police learned of the boy’s age, they sat down next to him on the bus, monitored him and made sure he didn’t leave. Then, when everyone left, the bus driver headed back south with law enforcement and the teenager inside for immediate deportation, he said.

The children, who are divided by age group at the camp, go through a rigorous verification process when they arrive, Helling said. There’s also one adult that every eight children directly responds to, and everyone on the campground has a working radio, Brown said, adding not to mention local and county law enforcement is monitoring the perimeter of the camp. The command center is also outfitted with standard emergency management tools to monitor health and operations at the camp.

At least 200 BCFS workers, from counselors, to medical personnel, to group leaders, translators and more, are on-hand to care for them. No resources were taken from the county to operate emergency medical services and fire rescue utilities or vehicles, the incident commander said.

“I have more concern of an external threat than I do these kids, by far and away any day of the week,” the incident commander said.

Children do have access to medical staff members onsite, and that includes 12 registered nurses, first responders and a nurse’s practitioner who can diagnose and prescribe medicine if needed, though the most they have seen since Friday are scrapes and bruises from soccer matches and Texas-weather related allergies, the medical personnel said during the tour.

The children also have access to washers and dryers, and mental health counselors during the transition time, Helling said. But they bring a minimal amount of belongings with them. Once officials have verified the number of children expected to step off the bus, the children then go through another verification process, where they’re medically examined one more time, given a bag of clothes and undergarments and go through orientation to outline the expectations while they’re at Lakeview.

And while DuBose said he doesn’t think the immigration policy in the U.S. is right, and adjustments need to be made, all he can continue to do is look around at the smiles of the children and keep helping.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the girls at the facility were using the multi-purpose building to watch “Rio,” an animated film about a domesticated macaw who goes beak-to-beak to fit in with family in Rio de Janiero. Camp officials were also working on a way to figure out how to provide Christmas presents for the children, but the details were still being sorted out because the process has to be unified, Helling said.

“When it comes to the policy of the United States, I don’t think it’s right. I think there needs to be adjustments, but as long as it is this, I’m glad there are facilities and people who are ready to put their arms around these kids,” DuBose said. “And at this moment, this time, I’m glad we get to be one of those.”

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