Children who entered the United States illegally are set to be sheltered temporarily at a convention center in downtown Dallas, as the country struggles to house the influx of unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said on Monday.
The Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center will be used as an emergency intake center as soon as March 17, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to The Epoch Times.
Use of the site is intended to be temporary.
The center will be equipped with clean and comfortable sleeping quarters and illegal immigrants will be provided meals, toiletries, and laundry. All children will be screened for COVID-19.
The city of Dallas is leasing the convention center to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for an Emergency Intake Site to house unaccompanied immigrant minors for up to 90 days, a convention center spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email.
The city is not involved in any day-to-day activities at this location, he added.
According to a memo circulated among members of the Dallas City Council and obtained by The Associated Press, the facility will house 15- to 17-year-old boys who illegally crossed the southern border without an adult.
The center was described as a “decompression center” in the memo.
HHS told The Epoch Times that officials with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to make sure children are moved quickly from border facilities.
“HHS will utilize all available options to safely care for the children. These options include both short-term and long-term solutions. In the short-term, ORR is working to ensure children don’t spend more time in border patrol facilities than necessary by: 1) safely increasing capacity in its permanent/licensed network by implementing CDC COVID-19 guidance; 2) using Influx Care Facilities with the same standards of care used in its permanent/licensed network; and 3) establishing Emergency Intake Sites to decrease over-crowding in CBP facilities,” a spokesperson said in an email.
“Simultaneously, ORR is committed to aggressively moving toward the long-term goal of acquiring enough state-licensed beds in our care provider network to reduce the need in the future for Influx Care Facilities or Emergency Intake Sites.”
The news comes as the influx of illegal immigrants, including many minors, at the U.S.–Mexico border has reached new highs since the last crisis in 2019. The number of illegal crossings is skyrocketing as President Joe Biden begins implementing his plan, which he campaigned on, to roll back Trump-era immigration rules and policies aimed at curbing the flow of illegal immigration.
The Department of Homeland Security last week confirmed that the number of unaccompanied minors in custody along the southern border is currently more than 3,250—more than triple the number from three weeks ago. Of those children, more than 1,360 have been staying at holding cells longer than the three days allowed by law.
FEMA on Friday approached Dallas about using the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center to house unaccompanied youth, an email sent Monday by Rocky Vaz, the city’s emergency management director indicates, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Government officials confirmed the following day that they wished to lease space in the center.
“We are in the process of finalizing the contract and getting the facility ready for use and wanted to share this with you,” Vaz said in his email, noting that all costs would be paid for by taxpayers through FEMA and HHS.
T.C. Broadnax, city manager for Dallas, told The Epoch Times in a statement that the city will “do our best to support this humanitarian effort.”
“We are committed to working with our federal partners to accommodate the request to utilize our facilities,” Broadnax said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a statement Monday said that the Biden administration’s “reckless open door policies have created a humanitarian crisis for unaccompanied minors coming across the border” and that “his policies are risking the health and safety of Texans and putting children at risk from cartels and human traffickers.”
Biden has declined suggestions that the situation at the border is reaching crisis point and is yet to announce any concrete plans to address the growing number of illegal crossings. When asked by a reporter last week whether there’s a crisis at the border, Biden replied, “No, we’ll be able to handle it.”
The Biden administration on Monday, however, acknowledged that the recent spike in illegal immigrants crossing the border is “a big problem.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a daily press briefing that the administration is assessing whether to add additional facilities for unaccompanied minors.
Psaki has defended the influx, saying that the Biden administration’s policy of accepting unaccompanied minors was introduced to prioritize “humanity.”
The administration, she said last week, is “working on putting in place policies that can address what we’re seeing,” such as increasing the number of Health and Human Services facilities for unaccompanied minors to be transferred to after being apprehended at the southern border.
It is also working to “safely” increase the number of children that can occupy current facilities in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.
Zachary Stieber and Janita Kan contributed to this report.