Congressman Joe Barton is right — he should have been told sooner that federal officials were developing plans to house up to 500 unaccompanied immigrant minors at an Ellis County camp for up to 21 days.
Barton, R-Ennis, says he found out about the plan on Tuesday, and the minors were scheduled to be brought to the Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center on Friday.
The immigrants, all aged 13-17 and primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, have been apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol during illegal border crossings.
The Border Patrol has only 72 hours after such apprehensions to turn unaccompanied minors over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement for temporary care. Immigration hearings decide whether they can stay in the U.S. or must be returned to their home countries.
Another group of Central American immigrant children is scheduled to arrive next Friday at the rural Sabine Creek Ranch camp in Rockwall County.
Barton and local officials in Ellis and Rockwall counties should have been given more notice, even though it is not required. It’s hard to believe that the Office of Refugee Resettlement hasn’t had these sites under consideration for a while.
Still, if timing is the biggest complaint, it’s minor in the scope of issues involved.
Barton also said in a Thursday news release that “the law should be revised to keep the minors near the border and expedite proceedings to send these individuals back to their country of origin at the foreign country's expense.”
That’s a bigger issue. But legal problems related to treatment of immigrant children at detention centers near Dilley and Karnes City in South Texas have clearly shown that keeping them near the border is no panacea.
The Border Patrol and the Office of Refugee Resettlement simply need more places to house minors.
There has been a new spike in numbers of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the border illegally — 10,588 of them in October and November.
That’s still far short of what was seen during the summer of 2014 — 10,000 in June alone that year — but it’s a lot.
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown said Thursday the situation at the 330-acre Lakeview camp is “under control” and nearby residents have no reason to worry that the minors will be housed there.