Photos of child immigrants in cages raising alarms

SAN ANTONIO — As many as 70,000 children from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico are crossing the U.S. border without their parents each year.

About 1,100 are temporarily housed at a facility at Lackland Air force Base in San Antonio.

There are several other temporary and permanent resettlement facilities on the border and elsewhere in Texas. But Washington won't talk about where they are located, how many children are involved, or how much is being spent on the program.

From Washington, Kenneth Wolfe of the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services offered a sparse response to a list of questions this week.

"We don't reveal the names/numbers for regular/permanent shelters," he wrote in an e-mail to News 8. "The staffing ratio is one employee for every 12 children. We have several contractors around the country."

Wolfe did not return follow-up phone calls.

The agency running the program in San Antonio won't talk about it, either.

But at a motel near Lackland Air Force Base, busloads of government subcontractors board day and night to take care of what are now known as "Unaccompanied Alien Children."

"Every night, there's about 300 to 400 kids that come in without parents. This is just in the lower Rio Grande Valley," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo).

Cuellar has been concerned about kids crossing the border without parents for some time.

Lately, he says, the problem has gotten worse.

On Wednesday, his office released photos to WFAA of kids in a cage at a federal Customs and Border Protection facility. The photos — which were leaked to his office by someone concerned about the living conditions there — show a system choked with children.

Cuellar's office would not identify the location of the facility to protect the source of the photos.

In San Antonio, the program is being handled through Baptist Children's Financial Services, News 8 has learned. BCFS is a non-profit agency that contracts with the state to provide disaster relief.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for the refugee relocation program.

BCFS hires workers through a medical staffing company called Favorite Staffing, but most of the employees are not hired for their medical skills. They watch the children in roughly 12-hour shifts and are paid $18 an hour.

Workers we talked to said the children are being well cared for, in a structured program that includes three meals a day.

But some kids — who are defined as those aged 18 and under — are coming across the border with health problems such as scabies and head lice, those familiar with the situation say.

Cuellar said Washington has been hiding from the problem.

"The problem with the administration is they don't want to give information," he told News 8. "In fact, there's times when they don't want to give information to members of Congress. It's almost like they don't want the American public to know about the situation. But I think taxpayers need to know what is going on, and this is one of the reasons why I'm talking about this."

Cuellar announced Wednesday that the House Appropriations Committee approved spending an additional $78 million to address the wave of migrant children crossing into the United States.

In an atmosphere of highly-charged immigration debate, this is a hot potato for both parties. But the message from Washington on the specifics of refugee resettlement seems to be clear: "We're not going to tell, so don't ask."


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