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San Antonio Is Now Ground Zero For A Growing Refugee Crisis

Photo: Department of Health and Human Services, License: N/A

Department of Health and Human Services

A barracks at Joint Base San Antonio—Lackland has been converted into a temporary shelter to house up to 1,200 children.

The escalating number of Central America children fleeing their home nations and making the life-threatening trek northward to the United States, alone, has sparked a humanitarian crisis along the southwestern border, the White House announced earlier this month.

These “unaccompanied” children are coming in such large numbers that they are overloading the U.S. immigration system, White House officials say, prompting the Obama administration to set up an emergency command to deal with the problem.

As part of that effort, a barracks at Joint Base San Antonio—Lackland has been converted into a temporary shelter to house up to 1,200 children. That facility is being operated under federal contract by a locally based nonprofit, BCFS Health and Human Services.

“We were tapped because of our emergency management capabilities,” BCFS spokesperson Krista Piferrer told the Current

The children now being housed at the local Air Force base represent only the tip of a spear that has pierced the shallow membrane of the nation’s already badly wounded immigration system. They are the tragic symptom of a refugee crisis along our southwestern border that is not unlike what we hear or read about in other parts of the world, where violence and poverty induce a mass exodus of people to flee toward what they perceive as a better-off land. 

Most of these unaccompanied children are caught while attempting to cross into the U.S. at the Texas border, federal officials said in a telephone media conference earlier this month. And they are the lucky ones, given a large number of these child refugees disappear during their perilous journey—often the victims of human traffickers, bandits, corrupt officials or sexual predators.

“The increase in unaccompanied children coming from Central America has been happening for several years,” Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of domestic policy, said during the media call. “What’s different this year is the increase is much larger than anticipated. It’s an over-90 percent increase as compared to last year.”

That “bump-up,” Muñoz added, is complicated further by the fact that a large percentage of the kids are under age 13, many of them girls. 

“This is creating an urgent humanitarian situation, which the federal government is moving very swiftly to address,” Muñoz said.

The children now being sent to San Antonio bunk in a three-story, 215,000-square-foot dormitory. The building was constructed in the “late 1960s to early 1970s” and previously housed men and women going through basic military training, JBSA-Lackland spokesman Oscar Balladores said.

“The way it was set up for military use was 20 open-bay dorms with central restrooms on the second and third floors,” Balladores explained. “It also has kitchen and dining areas on the first floor, and offices and classrooms and a laundry area—along with 10 covered areas outside that can be used for assemblies.” 

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