What to Know
- Dallas site to be a "decompression center" to temporarily host up to 3,000 unaccompanied boys ages 15-17 for up to 90 days.
- FEMA will be responsible for all costs and will arrange for food, shelter, medical care, etc.
- Children are being moved to alleviate overcrowding at border shelters.
The U.S. government plans to use the downtown Dallas convention center to hold up to 3,000 immigrant teenagers as sharply higher numbers of border crossings have severely strained the current capacity to hold youths, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.
The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will be used for up to 90 days beginning as early as this week, according to written notification sent to members of the Dallas City Council on Monday. Federal agencies will use the facility to house boys ages 15 to 17, according to the memo, which describes the soon-to-open site as a "decompression center."
U.S. Health and Human Services is rushing to open facilities across the country to house immigrant children who are otherwise being held by the U.S. Border Patrol, which is generally supposed to detain children for no more than three days. The Border Patrol is holding children longer because there is next to no space in the HHS system, similar to the last major increase in migration two years ago.
A tent facility operated by the Border Patrol in Donna, some 500 miles south of Dallas, is holding more than 1,000 children and teenagers, some as young as 4. Lawyers who inspect immigrant detention facilities under a court settlement say they interviewed children who reported being held in packed conditions in the tent, with some sleeping on the floor and others not able to shower for five days.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the Biden Administration's "reckless open door policies have created a humanitarian crisis for unaccompanied minors coming across the border" and that "his policies are risking the health and safety of Texans and putting children at risk from cartels and human traffickers."
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Saturday directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help manage and care for children crossing the border.
"I am incredibly proud of the agents of the Border Patrol, who have been working around the clock in difficult circumstances to take care of children temporarily in our care," Mayorkas said in a statement. "Yet, as I have said many times, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child."
The memo sent to Dallas City Council members said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and HHS will "be responsible for providing shelter management and contracts" for food, security, cleaning, and medical care at the convention center. Dallas previously offered space to HHS during the 2014 surge of crossings of immigrant children.
Dallas City Council member Jaime Resendez said, while Dallas bears no financial responsibility to care for the teens, it’s a time to show compassion.
“These individuals are human beings who are obviously going through something traumatic,” Resendez said. “These young folks are packed in tents, some sleeping on the floor and others haven’t been able to take a shower for days. So, what’s happening at the border is a humanitarian problem and collective action is necessary.”
HHS did not respond to requests for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for the city of Dallas said the city was preparing a comment on the agreement.
According to NBC 5 media partner KRLD-AM, State Rep. August Pfluger (R-San Angelo, District 11) said another 700 "unaccompanied children" were moved into temporary housing in his district in Midland overnight Sunday.
Teenagers began arriving Sunday in Midland at a converted camp for oilfield workers where volunteers from the American Red Cross will care for them.
Neither HHS nor the Red Cross would detail how the volunteers have been trained or whether they have undergone FBI fingerprint checks. The Red Cross said in a statement that it was working with HHS to "orient our volunteers."
"HHS will utilize all available options to care for the children referred to us safely," the agency said in a statement. BuzzFeed News first reported the opening of the Midland facility.
The surge at the U.S.-Mexico border has presented a major test for President Joe Biden's administration, which promised to break from the more restrictive measures against migrants enacted by former President Donald Trump. Biden has left in place some Trump policies, notably the expulsions of immigrant adults and families under a public-health declaration citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden declined to reinstate public-health expulsions of children, and his administration has also been unable to expel many families in South Texas due to policy changes in Mexico's Tamaulipas state, across from the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Border agents are apprehending more than 400 children a day on average, far more than the number of children that HHS is processing and releasing to sponsors. The Biden administration has announced several policy changes to try to expedite releases, but experts and immigration lawyers say the government could do more to speed up the process, particularly of releasing children to their parents in the U.S.
NBC 5's Candace Sweat contributed to this report.