Guatemalan boy symbolizes migrants' desperation

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 10:54 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 3 at 5:10 PM

U.S. Customs let a camera crew into the border processing center in McAllen on Tuesday. And yet again, it was overflowing with children.

Juan Angel Gonzales de la Cruz is one of the children who was in a Laredo center days ago. The 10-year-old somehow made it to Texas from Guatemala with a teenage friend and no one else.

A guide who was supposed to help them deserted them. They spent 16 days alone... and afraid.

But they survived.

Juan Angel was processed in the over-capacity center, then sent to a temporary shelter which is also at capacity. His family was found in Houston, and after being reunited with them, he spoke with our sister station KHOU, saying he was scared but happy to be with his family again.

Juan Angel is the type of child who could soon be sheltered in Dallas. The Border Patrol facilities usually process thee unaccompanied children within 72 days of finding them, but because there are so many coming through the border, that standard cannot be maintained.

So the processing centers remain full, as do the 65 or so Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters that exist across Texas. Another 35 are located in other states.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement is part of the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. The ACF has set up temporary shelters in Oklahoma, California, and at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Juan Angel was sent to the San Antonio facility. He said he was treated well and saw a lot of children there coming and going.

The ACF said facilities in Dallas are being identified by the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. General Services Administration as potential locations.

"While only a few facilities will ultimately be selected, a wide range of facilities are being identified and evaluated to determine if they may feasibly provide temporary shelter space for children," ACF said in a written statement.

While the location for a Dallas center has not been determined, ACF said strict protocols will be in place — the same protocols that govern other shelters across the nation.

The Department of Health and Human Services pays for and provides all services for the children through a network of grantees. That includes food, clothing, education, and medical screening.

The children do not leave the grounds; they do not attend local schools; and they are not allowed in until they have been vaccinated and evaluated.

Children "do not integrate into the local community ... they are not permitted to roam the local town or visit area attractions," the ACF's website says.

The non-profit agency Catholic Charities says, based on historical figures, children normally stay in these shelters about 35 days. Most are reunited with families outside the State of Texas. On average, 14 percent end up living in Texas long-term, and about four percent end up in Dallas.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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