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August 1995, Volume 2, Number 8

INS to Open Shelter for Undocumented Children

The INS in August will begin to house unaccompanied and minor illegal aliens in Tucson, Arizona, and later in El Paso, Texas. In Tucson, refugee advocates reportedly cared for 470 undocumented minors in 1994, up from 188 in 1993. Most Mexican children are sent home immediately, but children from more distant countries, such as Nicaragua, often remain in the US while their case is being decided. The INS prefers to release children to their families or foster parents rather than detain them.

The children, all under 18, will be housed from several nights to several months while the INS decides their case. The average stay is expected to be 21 days. Currently, if family or foster care cannot be found for unaccompanied minors, they are sent to shelters in California or Texas. The shelter will have 32 to 48 beds, which leads critics to complain that it is too large and may mean the children are detained longer than necessary.

The INS opened the shelter because of recent court rulings that require illegal immigrant children to be housed apart from unrelated adults or criminal juveniles. The shelter will be run by Southwest Key, a private, non-profit organization that runs about 25 treatment programs for juvenile delinquents in Texas, Arizona and Puerto Rico. This concerns some who say the organization deals with delinquents, not children without criminal histories. Southwest Key will be paid by the federal government about $80 per child per day.

Church groups criticized the plan. They argue that by holding the children, the government is using the children as "bait" to catch their illegal immigrant parents who are already living in the US.

The INS announced it will replace current border-crossing cards with a tamper proof one with finger or handprints. The change, the first in 40 years, is scheduled to begin on Oct. 1.

In 1994, the INS received 225,000 applications for border-crossing cards, most from those along the Texas border. To qualify, applicants must prove in an interview that they live and work in the border region. Temporary cards are issued the same day.

"INS Child-Detention Centers for Illegals Stir Controversy," Christian Science Monitor, July 20, 1995. Gross, "A Border-crossing card designed to thwart fraud," San Diego Union-Tribune, July 14, 1995. Mariam Davidson, INS To shelter Unaccompanied Minors," Arizona Republic, July 10, 1995.