Immigrant shelters on bases in 3 states, including Calif., to close

Three massive temporary shelters for unaccompanied immigrant youth at military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas will close in the next eight weeks, government officials announced Monday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families opened the shelters in May and June to house an influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the southern border since October, twice the number last year, mostly from Central America. So far, the shelters have housed 7,700 of them.

“We are able to take this step because we have proactively expanded capacity to care for children in standard shelters, which are significantly less costly facilities. At the same time, we have seen a decrease in the number of children crossing the southwest border,” said a statement from a department spokesman, Kenneth Wolfe.

The shelter at Fort Sill, Okla., is expected to close by Friday, he said. The other two — at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme — will close in the next eight weeks, he said.

Instead of the bases, children apprehended on the border will now be placed at smaller “standard” shelters and smaller temporary “surge capacity” shelters, although he warned that could change if the flow spikes again.

“There remains substantial uncertainty about the future flows of unaccompanied children,” he warned. “The three temporary shelters on military bases could be reopened for a limited time if the number of children increases significantly.”

The average amount of time it takes to place youth with sponsors has decreased in recent weeks from 35 to 30 days, Wolfe said.

Some of those who work with the youths cheered the announcement, saying they fare far better in less institutional shelters where they have more regular, private access to lawyers and other advocates.

“If you can get as many kids into the traditional shelters, the better. It’s a much more pleasant environment for a child to be in,” said Eric Tijerina, associate director of the immigrant children’s legal program at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Arlington, Va., who worked with children at the Lackland shelter.

Once unaccompanied Central American youth are apprehended at the border, by law they must be turned over by Border Patrol to Health and Human Services within 72 hours.

They are then held at shelters until HHS can place them with sponsors, usually parents or relatives, who they stay with until their immigration cases are resolved.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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