FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Experts say the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America have come to the Texas-Mexico border desperate to escape violence back home.
Once apprehended, federal authorities send some of the children to Catholic Charities’ facilities in Fort Worth.They may have nothing except the clothes on their backs, but the agency’s CEO, Heather Reynolds says they have plenty of emotional baggage. Listen to what an 8-year-old girl from Guatemala told them.
Reynolds says, “These kids were taken by drug cartels and others and would arrive back at their neighbors’ dead with their organs cut out of them. Obviously, this little girl had seen stuff none of us could ever imagine.”
So Reynolds says, like so many other children, the little girl’s relatives hired a human smuggler or “coyote” to bring her to Texas. “On her journey here, she was sold as a sex slave. Finally escaping, this 8-year-old crossed the Rio Grande.”
She is one of 198 children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras who Catholic Charities has served since last year, when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops requested the agency’s help. The government says since October 1, more than 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the Southwestern border, most of them into Texas. By September 30th of this year, the government estimates that number will reach 90,000 youngsters. Because of the demand, Catholic Charities in Fort Worth is in the process of doubling its capacity from 16 to 32 beds.
When the children arrive at agency, the door opens to a new life until they can be reunited with a relative already in the U.S.
Reynolds says, “They have memorized the phone number and told who to call when they get here, and so what happens is they share that number with us to work in conjunction with the federal government.” She says most of the children are reunited with family members.
Only three of the children have been placed with a foster family. Reynolds say the children stay in their shelter for two through four weeks.
An immigration judge determines whether the children can stay in the U.S. Catholic Charities says it provides medical care, and most importantly a sense of safety. On Friday, it set up a mock bedroom to show how they care for the children between the ages of five and 13.
Reynolds says when the children see the bedrooms for the first time, “The reaction is pretty remarkable because the conditions they’ve experienced in their lives is nothing like we view as simple shelter rooms.”
Counselors also help the youngsters cope with their ordeal. “These kids are survivors. You’ve got to remember what they’ve been through.”
While the humanitarian crisis has raised questions and concerns about the U.S. immigration policy, Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth say they focus on the children in need.
Father Isaac Orozco of Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth says, “None of us get to chose our neighbors. Our neighbor is whoever we find around us. What we do get to choose is how we respond. So what were doing here at the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and Catholic Charities is helping those wo we find on our doorstep, the border.”