Concerns Over Mental Health of Migrant Teens Housed at Dallas Convention Center

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The federal government anticipates closing the temporary shelter for migrant teenagers at the Kay Bailey Convention Center by June 2, the last day of the agreement between HHS, FEMA and the city of Dallas.

Unaccompanied asylum seekers from Central America have been housed at the convention center since March in an effort to help ease overcrowding at the border.

Meanwhile, some local advocates are expressing concern about the minors who are still in the shelter, specifically concern about their mental health.

There are currently 1,465 teenaged boys at the convention center in Dallas awaiting to be reunited with family or sponsors in the U.S., according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I get a lot of feedback,” said local LULAC president Rene Martinez of the conditions inside. “Most of the feedback has been positive. Yeah, a lot of the kids are stressed out, high anxiety levels. There’s been a few fights.”

Martinez worries the minors will suffer lasting impacts from the violence and poverty they escaped in their home countries, the treacherous and dangerous journey to the U.S. Mexico Border, being separated from loved ones, to life in the shelter that for some has dragged on for over a month.

Telemundo 39 spoke with the mother of a 17-year-old from Honduras who was just reunited with her in Chicago after spending more than a month in the Dallas shelter.

“The shelter treats them very well,” said Patricia Ponce in Spanish. “They eat well. They are provided clothing.”

The teens also receive medical care and basic schooling, according to Martinez.

Media and cameras have not been allowed inside the shelter, but NBC 5 is told the teens are held in one large room where cots are set up in rows.

They’re allowed some time to play sports but are not allowed outside.

“These kids have gone through a lot of trauma and so there is anxiety. These kids are going to be suffering,” said Martinez.

The local leader says there is some ‘soft counseling’ made available on-site to the young migrants.

One man, who asked Telemundo 39 not to identify him publicly, says he volunteered at the convention center and saw signs of depression and anxiety among some of the migrants.

“They’re feeling sadness. Some of them are feeling regret,” said local immigration attorney Cinue Herrera.

Herrera says he has repeatedly tried to gain access to the teens in order to provide legal advice, but has not been allowed in.

He has, however, heard the same accounts as Martinez, and has another concern as well.

“It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that an organization finally went to the center to teach these children about their rights,” said Herrera. “I see a problem with that because there’s so many kids that had already left and they have no clue about what their rights are.”

The teenagers have experienced several kind gestures while in North Texas.

“We got the Dallas Mavericks and the Texas Rangers to provide caps for all the kids,” said Martinez. “That was a really neat treat to give those kids. That feeling of warmth.”

HHS tells NBC 5, any teens now reunited with family or sponsors by June 2 will be transferred to another facility for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.

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