Culture / August 15, 2014

HHS to Close Military Facilities Housing Border Children

A few weeks ago, I joined a delegation of faith leaders to visit unaccompanied children at Lackland Air Force Base. Now, the government is suspending temporary shelters there and at other military facilities.

Politico is reporting a significant development in the government’s approach to handling the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border:

Hoping to save money and political angst, the Obama administration is pulling back from using military facilities to provide temporary shelter for child migrants crossing the border from Central America.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that it will suspend these operations within the next two months, beginning with Fort Sill in Oklahoma as early as the end of this week. The two remaining facilities — Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Naval Base Ventura County in California — are expected to phase out over a two- to eight-week period.

Yesterday, On Faith published an article I wrote entitled: Red, White, and Blue: The Colors of an Unaccompanied Minor’s Journey to America. The story chronicles a composite picture of what one of these children might experience, including a stay at one of the bases that is now being suspsended: Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Here’s how I described a child’s experience at Lackland based on my firsthand account:

The high of the plane ride would soon fade into the low of daily life at Lackland. Cinder block walls and concrete pavement lined the corridors that led to his new dorm, which he would share with 45 other boys, aged 12-17, who were part of the 1,100 children waiting for placement.

Red, white and blue were the colors of comfort. When he arrived to his new bed, he was greeted by a note that was left behind in a tattered Spanish Bible by the boy who just vacated that cot to be reunited with his family. In Spanish scrawl, the note encouraged Armando to not give up hope and included a few tips to help him survive his time in the facility.

As he spent the next 45 days at Lackland, he quickly settled into the normal routine. He could count on three square meals a day, six hours of school per day, and a never-ending stream of soccer during recreation time. He always looked forward to Sundays when “Pastor Dan” would come to do a Christian worship service and even got comfortable enough to sing a worship song from his home country with the group. The summer camp feel of his daily routine sometimes helped him to forget the agony he had experienced in his past.

One day, a group of “gringos” came to visit his classroom. His teacher introduced them as a group of pastors visiting the facility. Through an interpreter, they asked a series of questions that Armando and the other kids answered. Where were they from? How long had they been there? Why did they cross the border? When he heard other kids answer that last question by saying they had come to find a better life away from the gangs and violence that had forced them into poverty, he realized just how similar his story was to others in the group.

It appears that the political and financial costs of using the military facilities were too high for the government to continue to pay. Let’s pray that whatever new facilities are used for these kids will continue to provide the care and demonstrate the compassion they deserve as image bearers of God.



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