SAN ANTONIO – Many immigrant advocates agree that detention of children in any form, even in a temporary shelter, doesn’t help migrant youth already traumatized by what they’ve left behind.
“I would say that every second a child is held in detention is traumatizing, every second,” said Hope Frye, executive director of Project Lifeline, a national organization dedicated to the welfare of undocumented children.
Frye also served as the lead monitor in the landmark Flores Settlement that limited how long children can remain in detention and how they must be treated.
As a result, Frye said she has seen many unaccompanied minors like those now temporarily housed at the Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall.
“The children that are held in detention are suffering,” Frye said. “Every child I have met, the face of that child is tattooed on my soul.”
Frye recalls what she saw during the last surge of Central Americans in 2019.
“It is exactly the same today. There’s no difference,” Frye said, especially the overcrowding of facilities along the border.
Immigrant advocacy groups who toured the Expo Hall on Sunday said the migrant boys who are there need more of the counseling and support they’re already getting.
Kathy Crosby, a spokeswoman onsite for U.S. Health and Human Services, said its contractor is hiring for all positions, especially case managers, clinicians, doctors, youth care workers and other staff.
Crosby said new arrivals undergo both mental health screenings along with a medical examination.
In addition to 192 case managers, 92% of them bilingual, currently assigned specific children for the duration of their stay, Crosby said 33 bilingual clinicians conduct those screenings and are responsible for any mental health services they may need.
Crosby said youth care volunteers and staff, each overseeing groups of 30, are trained to look for signs of emotional distress, anxiety or depression, so they can alert the clinicians.
She also said the boys have access to medical and mental health professionals who are onsite 24/7.
Crosby said many of them don’t hesitate asking to talk to someone they’ve already spoken to about whatever issues they may have.
“That’s a good sign,” Crosby said.
Frye said counseling is essential to help young migrants overcome any trauma, although some of it could be long-term.
She said under Title 42, only unaccompanied children are allowed into the U.S., forcing family members to let them finish their long journeys alone.
“That is family separation by another name,” Frye said, referring to the highly controversial Trump administration policy.
She and immigrant advocacy groups agree the best overall solution would be to speed up the reunifications with their family members in America.
However, Crosby said it takes time to find those families, who are then vetted to assure the safety of the children being released into their custody.
Yet despite everything they’ve had to endure, Frye said, “These are very resilient population of children who will fit beautifully into their communities.”