DALLAS (Reuters) - About 800 immigrant children from Central America who have entered the United States will be moved to two campsites in the Dallas area over the coming days, local officials said on Thursday.
Officials said the move was due to an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally in the last few months.
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown told a news conference on Thursday the campsite in his county, the Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center, will be patrolled around the clock and function like a mini city.
Figures recently released by U.S. Border Patrol show that it apprehended 10,558 unaccompanied children, mainly from Central America, who entered the United States illegally in October and November, about double the number over the same period last year.
Officials say rather than fleeing, many of the children seek out U.S. officials, surrender, and request political asylum, citing violence and endemic crime in their home countries.
The number of children rapidly escalated in the summer of 2014, totaling nearly 63,000 for the 10 months ended July 2014. Many were fleeing criminal gangs and drug-related violence at home.
Lakeview Camp, run by the Assemblies of God of North Texas, is due to care for 500 migrant youth. Another 300 Central American children will be housed at Sabine Creek Ranch, a Christian camp, in Rockwall County, the camps said.
Officials in Ellis and Rockwall counties said they received little notice from state and federal agencies of the arrivals.
Reverend Rick DuBose, superintendent of the Assemblies of God of North Texas, told the same news conference that his group was honored to give the children a place to stay for next three weeks.
“We didn’t feel like there was any way we could turn them away and not care for them. We have the beds that are empty and the food that can be served,” he said.
The children will then likely move into a U.S. government-run facility or be turned over to family members until their immigration status is decided, officials said.
Ellis County Commissioner Paul Perry told Reuters: “We have been assured that the cost of housing and security will be borne by the federal government.”
The previous surge in unaccompanied minors created what the Obama administration described as a humanitarian crisis.
To contain it, U.S. authorities opened temporary shelters, reassigned border agents, added processing centers and immigration judges and started Spanish-language campaigns in the countries that most of the children were fleeing - El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
It also led to sharp criticism from Republican leaders who said the Democratic president was not doing enough to secure the border.
Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frances Kerry and Sandra Maler