Base Serves as Home for Children Caught at Border
At lunchtime, teenage boys in red and blue T-shirts stood in line as they entered a hushed cafeteria for hamburgers and hot dogs. Just days earlier, many of them risked their lives crossing the border from Mexico into the United States, but now they were spending their time in spotless, orderly rooms, with police officers ensuring their safety, registered nurses monitoring their health and a host of board games, movies and outdoor activities keeping them entertained.
How these children were being cared for was not unusual. Where they were being held was — at an Air Force base here.
Thousands of immigrants under the age of 18 are arrested every year illegally crossing the border on their own, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.
They often flee their countries to join relatives in the United States or to escape abuse and neglect at home. A majority are male, 14 to 17 years old and come from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, with a smaller number from Mexico. They are usually detained in shelters while they wait for their cases to be resolved.
But this month, federal officials began housing 200 of these children at Lackland Air Force Base here, turning a vacant dormitory that was once the living quarters of basic training recruits into an emergency shelter for young illegal immigrants.