County houses unaccompanied illegal minors
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
After the San Antonio Express-News published an article on Tuesday, July 29, titled "Kerr County unhappy about 'illegal minors'," Bandera County Judge Richard Evans was asked about the possibility of unaccompanied minor children being housed in this county. "I wouldn't think so," he replied. "Where would they put them?"
In fact, Bandera County has been used as a repository for some of the waves of undocumented and unaccompanied minor children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, who poured across the Texas-Mexico border this spring.
According to statistics compiled by county resident Charles Warner, it is estimated that more than 90,000 illegal alien minors will arrive in the United States during 2014 and an additional 145,000 illegal alien minors are expected during 2015 - with most remaining in Texas cities and communities.
During the Thursday, August 14, meeting of commissioners court, Evans revealed that undocumented and unaccompanied minors had been housed in summer camps located throughout Bandera County. Beginning the discussion, Evans said, "There's been a lot of activity on our southern border and the federal government has not done its job."
He went on the say that approximately 500 children from Central America, while awaiting deportation hearings, had been relocated to Bandera County - without prior notice to elected officials or law enforcement. "It came as a complete surprise to us and raises serious security and health issues," Evans said. "This is not an acceptable situation."
The housing situation was only discovered after administrators with the Texas Department of Public Safety contacted Sheriff Daniel "Dan" Butts to ascertain if his officers could provide security for the camps.
"It appears that DPS officers were needed on the border and could no longer cover the security slots at the summer camps," Butts said in an interview. "That's when we first heard that the children were being housed in the county."
Earlier in the spring, however, all firefighters had been invited to a luncheon at a summer camp located between Vanderpool and Utopia. As Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King told the court, "They were asked by the camp to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but none did." However, according to King, who also serves as chief of the Vanderpool Volunteer Fire Department, everyone declined to sign.
Apparently, the illegal unaccompanied minor children arrived in Bandera County in February, but the last week in May, prior to paying summer campers arriving at the summer camps, all immigrant minors were transported to a detention facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. BCSO law enforcement personnel also served as security at the air force base.
As King pointed out to the court, "I'm sure it was never disclosed to the parents of summer campers that illegal children had been sleeping in the beds just a week before."
Recently, however, the children have been removed from Lackland. Conventional wisdom believes that they will be returned to the now unoccupied summer camps in Bandera County. The federal government pays the private camps for housing the unaccompanied minor children. However, other reports indicate the federal government is building a large detention facility in McAllen to house the children prior to their deportation hearings. "It would be easier for the government to have them in one facility rather than scattered all over," King said.
The health and safety issue came to a head after it was discovered that a BCSO deputy, serving as an escort on a bus taking the children from Bandera County to Lackland, was told to don a surgical mask to avoid possible exposure to tuberculosis. The vehicle being used for transport was a contract tour bus.
According to Warner, the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, require legal immigrants to receive a comprehensive medical exam and vaccinations for a wide range of diseases, but these requirements are not being equally applied to illegal alien minors being admitted to this country.
To forestall another influx of illegal immigrant children from being housed in the county without prior notice to elected and law enforcement officials, commissioners unanimously approved a resolution concerning unaccompanied foreign minors.
The resolution stated: "The Commissioners Court of Bandera County requests that no minors be transferred to non-federal facilities unless the affected local governments, including cities, counties and school districts, have approved the transfer and contractual agreements executed by the federal government to fully reimburse local governments for all costs incurred in the housing, education and maintenance of the minors."
"Will this happen?" Evans asked. "No, but we need to take a stand."