Unaccompanied children the focus of congressional hearing in Texas



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Posted on July 3, 2014 at 7:04 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 3 at 5:07 PM

McALLEN – In one of the largest congressional hearings ever conducted outside the U.S. Capitol, up to 14 members of the House Homeland Security Committee are meeting in South Texas regarding the surge of Central American children coming into the state without any parents. 

Governor Rick Perry, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, Customs and Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Kevin Oaks, and Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra are testifying before the committee.

U.S. Representative Michael McCaul says the Customs and Border Patrol predicts 150,000 kids will come into the U.S. by 2015, unaccompanied.

"Our military bases are turning into refugee camps," said McCaul.

More than 52,000 children have been apprehended. That number is expected to rise to 90,000 by December. McCaul said Thursday that Mexico needs to secure its southern border to stop Central American kids from entering.

McCaul is calling on the president to use the National Guard to help free up the Customs and Border Patrol.

On Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it was spending a million dollars on an ad campaign in Central America, warning parents and children of the dangers of trying to enter the United States illegally. 

CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said his agency will broadcast 6,500 television and radio advertisements in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for 11 weeks beginning on July 7. 

It’s uncertain exactly what is driving the exodus of children from Central America. 

“I heard that if you brought a minor child and it was your son or daughter, they would let you stay,” said Omar, a father who would only give his first name. He and his teenage son were released from custody this week after surrendering to Customs and Border Protection.

CBP Chief Kerlikowske said that rumor is false. 

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who is also the head of the county’s Homeland Security, volunteered to help temporarily house about 2,000 of the children. They’ll be placed at three facilities in Dallas and paid for entirely by the federal government, Jenkins said. 

The locations of the Dallas facilities might be announced as early as Thursday. 

Homeland Security has moved 300 extra agents to the Rio Grande Valley to help handle the new wave of immigrants. 

State leaders increased DPS’s budget by 55 percent this year to $122 million for border security. Then in mid-June, Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus approved sending an additional $1.3 million in surge funds to DPS troopers along the Rio Grande. 

Customs and Border Patrol caught 1,000 undocumented immigrants a day during the month of May, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told WFAA last week. 

E-mail: jwhitely@wfaa.com