DALLAS — Migrant children continue to arrive at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which has been set up as a holding area between overcrowded border control facilities and full refugee shelters.
Officials with the US Department of Health and Human Services said as of Sunday, around 1,500 children were in the Dallas facility and 10,500 are in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters across the country.
Sunday in an interview with ABC, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tried to clean up what some see as mixed messaging with border control.
“The message is quite clear. Do not come,” Mayorkas said. “The border is closed. The border is secure.”
Some children are staying in border control facilities far beyond the 72-hour time limit.
“We are building safe, orderly and humane ways to address the needs of vulnerable children,” Mayorkas said.
He said they are still expelling single adults and families because of the pandemic.
Twenty-five years ago, Samira Page crossed the Rio Grande with her family fleeing from Iran and seeking safety in the US.
“It was a hard journey,” she said. “We had no money. We didn’t know anyone. We had no documentation and nowhere to go.”
Now, she runs Gateway of Grace, which will have dozens of volunteers at the convention center this week. Many of those volunteers are refugees themselves.
“That’s really the beauty of it, that refugees are going to serve these migrant children and be a healing presence to them,” Page said.
Advocacy groups say most of the children arriving are from El Salvador and Guatemala. Each is tested for COVID-19 and, if positive, they’re put in hotels, according to HHS.
“They are just seeking to survive and that’s why their parents let them embark on this dangerous journey,” Page said. “We are not talking about political issues. We are talking about human beings, specifically children who are in need of our support and our help.”
Caseworkers will try to get each child reunified with any family already in the U.S. If they can’t, the children moved on to a longer-term ORR facility.
Dallas is receiving $8 million dollars for the 75-day lease, according to Rocky Vaz, Dallas’ emergency management director. Vaz says future events will keep them from extending the lease beyond 75 days, and some events will still be going on in a separate part of the convention center.
U.S. officials are being criticized for not being more prepared.
“We're dealing with a dismantled system, and we did not have the ordinary, safe, and just transition from one administration to another,” Mayorkas said.