The U.S Border Patrol says it has been overwhelmed with the massive influx of migrant children crossing into Texas from Central America. Many of them are arriving with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Border Patrol turned for immediate emergency relief to a group well-versed in emergency relief efforts, including the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief effort.
"We provide temporary solutions. We come in during the crisis,” says director Jim Richardson. The organization just wrapped up its work at the border near Brownsville, where volunteers provided food, safe shower facilities and clean clothes.
“I would say [this situation] would be comparable to a hurricane,” Richardson says. “The difference here is that while the rest of the world goes on in normal operation, you have these pockets of children who find their life in crisis.” Sometimes, even the communities where these children are entering may be unaware of their situation.
Once the children's emergency needs have been met, they are transferred to shelters in Texas and other states. That’s when people like Jonathan Ryan begin their work. He is an attorney for RAICES, a refugee and immigrant legal services organization. The children face a gauntlet of legal proceedings to determine if they are eligible for asylum or will be returned to their home countries.
“We’re hearing stories involving extreme abuse in homes; also violence in cities and towns in Central America,” Ryan says. "For many children when they reach the age of eight to 13, they're faced with the decision of joining a gang, being killed by the gang or getting out. And many of the people we're seeing here are the good kids that were able to get out."
Many Texans have been prompted by the situation to offer help. While both men say they understand the instinct, the federal government is in charge of the U.S. response. BCFS HHS is working with the Department of Health and Human Services to operate the shelters. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that what we have here is a humanitarian crisis," Ryan says. "This is a refugee crisis, and that these are children. The way we approach these children needs to be one of compassion and empathy.”