Authorities confirmed Thursday that around 200 teenage boys are being detained at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center after buses arrived Wednesday night.
Federal officials want to keep the temporary immigration asylum processing operation low key for the safety of all involved.
It was impossible to tell who was behind the dark windows on the four tour buses that pulled in around 10pm Wednesday.
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Red Cross workers who’ve been at the convention center said they’ve been told not to talk about it.
An official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Dallas Morning News Thursday that it was teenage minors on those buses.
Vern Young with the Federal Emergency Management Administration told NBC5, the kids are doing well.
“They are well taken care of, they've got clothing and shower, feeding, and of course bedding, beds. So, they’re in good condition,” said Young.
The government leased the largest exhibit hall at the convention center for 90 days as existing detention facilities became overcrowded from a surge in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum at the Mexican border.
“They’re just happy to be here. There’s a lot of confusion. Obviously with children if you’re moving them from one place to another there’s apprehension. But they’re all happy to be here,” Young said.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said it is standard federal policy not to allow pictures or contact with minor children who are detained.
“They're not to be feared. They're not anyone you're going to see out in our community,” Jenkins said. “People should just pray for these children.”
Wednesday Texas Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference at the Omni Convention Center Hotel, saying state investigators should be allowed to interview each and every one of the minors over concerns about COVID-19, sex trafficking and drug cartel influence.
A group of El Paso migrant activists held a virtual press conference Thursday to dispel what they said are false notions about migrants and the current surge at the border.
Marisa Limon Garza with the Hope Border Institute said rhetoric that gets tossed around has consequences. She said El Paso is very aware of the 2019 Walmart mass shooting that killed 23 people that was said to have been sparked by fear of migrants.
“We are living in almost alternate reality from what you might see because, we are working together and we are prepared and we are making sure this is a safe, orderly and humane process,” Garza said.
Speaking with the group was 22-year old Wendy Lopez who migrated years ago from El Salvador. She recalled a very difficult process of detention and being separated from family members. But now she has plans to attend college in the U.S. and a medical career. Through an interpreter, she said it was all worth it.
The activists said migrants seeking asylum now have been forced to wait in Mexico for years. But a court order has opened a window for minors who cannot be turned away. Families are sending their children ahead for a better future.
“And so when they have an opportunity to insure their own personal safety, of course that's an opportunity that you will always take,” said Melissa Lopez with Diocese Migrant Refugee Services.
The minors seeking asylum must be matched with relatives or sponsors and go through a long review process to remain in the United States.
The FEMA official said the process has already started for the teens who have arrived in Dallas.
He said more are expected to arrive at the convention center Thursday night.
Up to 3,000 may be housed at the temporary location during the 90 day lease according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.
There are groups working around the clock and organizing to ensure the teens arriving have what they need and eventually connected to family or another safe place. Denise Benavides with La Monarca Foundation heard the news and put the wheels in motion. This isn’t her first experience with migrant teens, so she knows something about how this works.
“We’ve done this before at the border in El Paso back in 2018, so we know the process of helping whether it’s families or teenage boys getting connected with their families,” said Benavides.
Her organization collaborated with Catholic Charities to work the teens.
“For each teenager I think their life looks different, depending on whether they go with a family member or go to another shelter,” she said.
Benavides said all volunteers through Catholic Charities were screened in order to gain access into the Convention Center, which she hopes will happen within the next couple days.
“One of the big things that we’re doing is we’re going through a training to teach people how to be fosters for these and many more migrant teenagers that are coming across,” she said.
As a mother herself, she says the trauma is what she worries about the most.
“They are kids that crossed the border and they left their parents behind because they want a better life. That is just heartbreaking.” she said.
Benavides says, unlike the detention centers near the border, she feels a little better about the situation at the Dallas convention center because volunteers will have access which she feels is another layer of accountability.
Thursday, volunteers from LULAC collected supplies for the teens in front of a Bishop Barber Babes on Jefferson Boulevard.
"They come with the clothes on their back. So we’re asking the community to bring and buy brand new shirts, pants, dresses, blouses, underwear, sanitized items, anything for hygiene," said Hilda Ramirez Duarte.
Duarte said LULAC is also working with Catholic Charities to hold a Zoom training for people interested in serving as foster parents to an unaccompanied minor. Click here for more information.