With their 21-day window closing, hundreds of minor migrants from Central America have been shuttled to new government holding facilities in Texas.
Up to 700 of the 900 unaccompanied youngsters sent to Ellis and Rockwall counties last month are still under federal control. Because Texas law set a three-week limit at those locations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is moving the migrants to camps in Somervell and McLennan counties.
The ongoing influx of minor migrants is requiring more facilities in additional counties — though HHS has not disclosed where. Nor could HHS spokeswoman Andrea Helling provide current head counts.
“I don’t have numbers,” she told Watchdog.org on Wednesday.
Instead of sending juvenile border-crossers home, the Office of Refugee Resettlement places them with sponsors in the United States. That process typically takes longer than 21 days, so the minors remain in government custody.
Incredibly, federal screening guidelines do not require prospective sponsors to be legal U.S. residents.
From October 2014 through November 2015, 757 minors were released to sponsors in Texas. Harris County received the most — 529 — followed by Dallas County (163) and Travis County (65).
Rockwall Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Welch said more migrants could be headed to his rural county. After the local detention facility is empty for 21 days, it can be re-opened for more immigrants, he said.
“We’ve been kept in the dark. We only found out about this a couple of days before it happened,” Welch said of the first wave of migrants.
So far, the federal government has spent $12.9 million housing and feeding the unaccompanied border crossers. Helling said HHS maintains a 12-state network of holding facilities with 8,400 beds for unaccompanied minors.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. @Kenricward