With more than 1,000 unaccompanied children crossing the southern border into the United States each week, local residents are looking for a way to respond to what some are calling a “humanitarian crisis.”
Jacqueline Gist, longtime member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, says she wants to reach out to help undocumented immigrant children being detained in shelters while awaiting deportation proceedings.
“Children who are far from home, coming out of very scary, dangerous, life-threatening situations- if we can’t find fit in our hearts to help those children, then I hate to think of who we’ve become,” says Gist.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have sought to cross the U.S. – Mexico border in the past eight months, fleeing violence in Central America.
The Department of Health and Human Services operates approximately 100 shelters near the border that can house the children until they can be settled with families to await their hearings. Due to the recent influx, three more shelters have opened in California, Texas and Oklahoma.
As the children have been moved from one location to another, images of angry locals yelling at school buses have flooded the media in past weeks, prompting some, like Gist, to offer a rebuttal in the form of an invitation.
“My original thought had been that our community could welcome a busload of these children who are being treated with hatred in other places where they show up, and help them through their resettlement process that they’re going through,” says Gist.
But while Gist says the response from the local community has been in favor of offering temporary shelter, federal guidelines stand in the way.
“[The Department of Health and Human Services] is not interested in a one-time thing, they’re more looking for what they call permanent facilities, that would be at least thirty-six months and that would pretty much be open to a steady stream of children,” says Gist.
To be considered as a shelter, a facility must be licensed by the state and run by a group home care provider. The deadline to apply is early August.
“I don’t think we’re in a position to provide a facility for these children. I think it’s too big and the time frame is too short. The actions necessary to get there would take months and months and months.”
Still, she says concerned citizens in Chapel Hill and Carrboro can find a way to help.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything that we can do, and I think what we need to do I find organizations in our region who are already helping or who are poised to help and see how we can support those.”
Gist says the Church of Reconciliation is already accepting donations of toys and Spanish-language books to offer children in shelters, and she expects similar efforts to gain momentum in the coming weeks.