GALVESTON, Texas -- As the thousands of undocumented and unaccompanied minor children flooding into the United States are sent to temporary shelters across the country, one woman’s story highlights the human drama and the crises of conscience and taxpayer cost gripping the country right now.
Gladys Lopez, 24, is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras. She arrived in Houston a year ago looking for a better life than what she faced in her crime and poverty-plagued home country. She hoped to work long enough and earn enough money to eventually send for her daughter Eliana.
This past month she paid a coyote $3,000 each to shepherd Eliana, 4, the girl’s aunt Maria, 17, and Maria’s daughter Nasily, 2, to the U.S. border. Like the multitude of other children from Central American who are flooding into the U.S., Lopez says her family was told by smugglers that U.S. immigration officials would feel pity for them and allow the children to stay in the country.
The trio was intercepted at a border crossing in Brownsville and have been in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody ever since.
“It’s very difficult being away from your child and that’s why I took the risk to bring her over here,” Lopez said through a translator. “I would at least like to know if they are OK and where they are at this moment.”
Lopez was alerted by a phone call that her daughter was in U.S. custody. But as of Wednesday she says he does not know which U.S. facility her daughter, sister, and niece are in.
“The unfortunate thing right now is that we only have names,” said Cesar Espinosa the executive director of FIEL, Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle, an immigrant advocacy organization in Houston. “But there could be tens of hundreds of Elianas in the system.”
The minors, who Lopez and Espinosa believe may have arrived with hundreds of others Thursday at Bush Intercontinental Airport and are currently being processed by ICE officials, could be at any number of temporary government-approved shelters: from California to New York. But Lopez hopes she may find her daughter at the Children’s Center in Galveston, one of numerous local organizations that have been tasked with providing temporary housing for the immigrant children. The Children’s Center confirmed to KHOU that 20 children are being housed at their Galveston facility and another 30 at their facility in Brazoria County.
But neighbors at 45th and N., where the Children’s Center operates in the former doctor’s quarters of an historic Galveston marine hospital, say they are torn over how to respond to the crisis and the arrival of the children on the island.
“I think it’s a crisis and I don’t think they should come because what’s gonna happen to them? I mean there’s too many open ended scenarios,” said Tommie Mallini who lives across the street from the Children’s Center.
“It breaks my heart. It really does. But I don’t think that bringing them into the cities and counties and expecting them to foot all these bills is right either. And the people who are sending them, do they know what’s happening to them on the journey? The people who are bringing them, that scares me to death.”
Thousands of families now wait for word from immigration agents which families will be reunited, which families will be allowed to stay, and which children will be sent back to their home countries.