Help wanted: shelter and foster care workers and agencies, direct care providers, child advocate service providers and case management service providers. Apply at the Department of Health and Human Services-Administration for Children and Families.
Volunteers wanted too: Apply at the Office of Refugee Resettlement and specify whether you are willing to provide shelter and mass care, whether you’re licensed to provide child care, whether you can offer housing for 500 or more children, and if you can support other sites with personnel or materials. Depending on your answers, the office will get back to you in 45 days, when they release a Funding Opportunity Announcement for non-licensed sites to house UC, short for unaccompanied children.
The federal government has yet to state definitively that some of the thousands of migrant children who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border on their own will land at Camp Roberts, but they are preparing for that scenario in such a way that it seems likely.
And now Monterey County is preparing for it as well.
The Monterey County Board of Supervisors, along with the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, received a briefing last week from HHS and heard the astounding news: Up to 5,000 unaccompanied minors between the ages of 4-18 may end up at Camp Roberts – not all at once, but over time. Board Chair Wendy Root Askew says while there’s significant weight on the country to ensure the safety and health of these children, there’s also now significant weight on the county.
“Listening to the briefing, all I could think about is the mothers of these children are in such dire circumstances that they’re willing to send their children away to give them a better life,” she says. “We want to ensure we welcome them with warm arms, the way any mother would want them to be welcomed.”
HHS followed the briefing with an April 23 email to immigration policy aides in the offices of Congressmembers Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, and Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara; Camp Roberts straddles the border of their districts. The email included a list of the aforementioned services that would be needed. Also attached were a pair of memos, one of which bears the unwieldy title “Safely Increasing Capacity for Unaccompanied Children at Administration for Children and Families Office of Refugee Resettlement Facilities.”
That document has a basic premise: More unaccompanied children are arriving at the border every day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities are meant for short-term stays and the immigration system is going to struggle to meet the challenge.
Panetta, who has traveled to the southern border in Texas twice since late March, says all of the dire pictures of migrant children in horrific conditions in U.S. custody involve CBP facilities, which are not equipped to handle children for any length of time. By comparison, an HHS facility he visited had 12 epidemiologists, recreation facilities and classrooms. The one complaint kids had for him, he says, was they wanted more pizza.
“They’re being educated. There are background checks from HHS personnel to determine whether they can stay here under the law,” Panetta says. “The goal is to get them out of CBP facilities as fast as possible.”
But the goal is also to move them out of HHS facilities as well – thus the call for care agencies. There are four ways children move out of the facilities: First priority is to place them with a parent already in the country; second, with a relative already here; third, they could go to a family friend; fourth, they claim asylum, have nobody here and enter foster care. Asylum claims also mean more immigration court judges are needed.
“You’re seeing a broken immigration system, especially for children, when it comes to these sorts of claims,” Panetta says. “In the last administration, it was purposefully not resourced and now we’re trying to catch up. I agree with what this administration is doing, but we have to have the resources we need to respond.”
In Monterey County, there’s a good start. Askew is determined to do what she can, and supervisors Chris Lopez and Luis Alejo issued a resolution calling for rapid unification with families, legal representation and transparency. It passed on April 27 by a vote of 5-0.