Texas

Fort Worth shelter has seen a 'revolving door' of immigrant children

Undocumented children return from recess at Catholic Charities Fort Worth on February 19, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Catholic Charities works with the government to shelter undocumented youngsters apprehended at the Texas/Mexico border. It also assists in resettling refugees from around the world.
Undocumented children return from recess at Catholic Charities Fort Worth on February 19, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Catholic Charities works with the government to shelter undocumented youngsters apprehended at the Texas/Mexico border. It also assists in resettling refugees from around the world. Star-Telegram file

Catholic Charities Fort Worth has sheltered 28 immigrant children separated from parents — and reunited 16 with caregivers — since the government first implemented President Donald Trump's zero tolerance policy in April.

"It has been a revolving door," Katelin Cortney, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities Fort Worth, told the Star-Telegram Wednesday. "As soon as we reunify a child with their family, then we receive another child."

Catholic Charities Fort Worth has a 32-bed facility known as the Assessment Center of Tarrant County that offers shelter to children, many of whom have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services. Twelve beds are set aside for unaccompanied minor children under an agreement with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Offering shelter to unaccompanied immigrant children is an ongoing responsibility at the shelter.

But in early April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy, which charged adults who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a visa with illegal entry. The policy was applied at the border, including to families seeking asylum from Central American countries experiencing gang violence. In practice, parents were charged and placed in detention while children where placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release that there were 2,053 children being cared for at shelters, as of June 20.

After a national outcry, Trump this month rescinded the practice of separating children from parents through an executive order.

As attorneys and advocates work to reunite families, the fate of these immigrant children continues to evolve.

A federal judge this week ordered family separations at the border to end — and for families that have already been separated to be reunited. The California judge's order also calls for all the parents to be allowed to at least talk with their children in the next 10 days by phone.

Local impact

After the zero tolerance policy went into effect, the Fort Worth shelter began serving immigrant children separated from their parents, Cortney said.

Those boys and girls, between the ages of 5 and 12, mostly have been from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Migrant children have typically stayed two to four weeks, but when a child has a sponsor, it can take seven to 10 days to place a child in a family member's care, she said.

Cortney said services for the children include vetting family members, which includes making sure no one in the caregiver's home is a sex offender.

The shelter also provides new clothes for the children.

"They always come to us in sweats," she said. The children are checked by a physician and given immunizations, she said. The shelter also helps children work with lawyers so they know their rights.

The children attend on-site lessons with a teacher from the Fort Worth school district, Cortney said.

"She works with them on some basic English, but also on some geography," Cortney said, explaining that teachers and students often map their journey.

Offering help

At the Democratic state convention, recently held in Fort Worth, delegates began donating items to help the children being served by Catholic Charities Fort Worth.

They brought bags of items ranging from shampoo, soap and brushes to washcloths, deodorant and toys to a collection area set up at the Julie Johnson booth in the Fort Worth Convention Center's exhibit hall.

Texas Democrats criticize the Trump administration for a zero-tolerance policy that led to the separation of children from parents seeking asylum but not crossing legally into the United States.

Those who brought items said they wanted to do something to help the children who had been separated from their parents and families.

"I have done this project in the past with regards to helping refugees, and I saw the impact that made on people the first time," said Chelsea Roe, a political consultant. "I wanted to carry that on and see how many more lives we can make better."

Cortney said Catholic Charities' website has provided extensive information and a list of items that are helpful in the care of the children. They are also looking for families willing to serve as long-term foster parents for refugee and migrant children.

"There has been an overwhelming amount of support from the community," she said.

President Donald Trump said he will be sign an executive order that would end the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the border illegally.

The U.S. Border Patrol released video of a brief tour they gave reporters inside a detention facility in McAllen, Texas, where it holds families arrested at the southern U.S. border. The video shows adult and children housed in cages.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
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