Democratic members of the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) stopped by San Antonio's St. P J's Children's Home this week to visit the refugee children there. Sens. Leticia Van de Putte (San Antonio), Jose Rodriguez (El Paso), and Sylvia R. Garcia (Houston), and MALC Chair Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer (San Antonio), toured the location where over 80 refugee children are being sheltered.
All members agreed: These children are fleeing from extreme danger.
“They are here fleeing their countries where there is violence, where there is human trafficking, where there's prostitution, where there are things that frankly all us would want to get away from,” said Sen. Sylvia Garcia.
Updated 6:02pm to reflect revised media statement.
Read statements by Van de Putte, Rodriguez, and Martinez-Fischer below the jump.Sen. Leticia Van de Putte was proud of the dedication shown by facilities like St. P J's Children Home, and other faith-based institutions, providing shelter to many of these young children in their times of struggle.
“But the great story here is our faith-based institutions, our not-for-profits who are caring for these children,” said Van de Putte.
State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer compared the situation the members witnessed to the crises seen after Hurricane Katrina and Ike. He wondered whether Texas is doing enough in terms of helping care for the unaccompanied minors.
“I want to know whether we are fulfilling our mission of service in a compassionate way, in a humane way,” Martinez-Fischer said.
Sen. Jose Rodriguez shared similar concerns, saying the state “is providing more boots on the ground as an enforcement response, rather than the humanitarian response that we should expect.”
Below is a media release sent by the members further detailing their visit:
Members of Senate Hispanic Caucus and Mexican American Legislative Caucus Visit Refugee Children in San Antonio, TX
Humanitarian needs must be addressed
San Antonio, TX – Today, Senators José Rodríguez and Sylvia R. Garcia, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC), joined Senator Leticia Van de Putte and Representative Trey Martinez-Fischer, the Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), to tour the St. P J's Children's Home. The legislators were able to experience, first hand, the continued need for humanitarian support in Texas due to an influx of unaccompanied minors fleeing from cartel violence and dangerous living conditions in Central America. After touring the facility, which can house eighty two children, the legislators were able to visit the young refugees and hear their stories.
“These kids were so afraid for their lives in their own countries that they felt it was less risky to travel hundreds of miles — exposing themselves to other dangers like assault and rape or starvation — to seek asylum in the United States,” said Rodríguez. “The humanitarian aspect of this crisis needs as much immediate attention as has been placed on border security by state leadership. The problems that caused so many of these children to come here are not going to be fixed by spending more money on border security, these children have made a harrowing journey, and they need to be taken care of properly while they are in our country,” he stated.
Senator Rodríguez said Texas should spend part or most of the $1.3 million authorized weekly by the state's leadership on humanitarian needs. “This money needs to go to providing access to counsel, quickly finding sponsors or tracking down family members, and providing support to agencies such as St. P J's Children's Home, non-profits, or NGOs that are deeply invested in the welfare of children. In addition, the state should give more regulatory flexibility to these non-profits and NGO's so they can help more children,” said Rodriguez.
The Senators stated they hope to be able to organize the SHC to work on setting up more tours in other communities to continue learning about these humanitarian efforts. “I know we're in San Antonio, and while we had an enlightening visit, this isn't about any one person's effort. This is about what so many faith-based and community organizations are doing to care for these refugee children all over the state. Let's not forget, these are not adults or criminals, they're kids,” Rodríguez added.
I am glad to see the term refugee being used more by officials. These young children are exactly that.
The irony of all of this, if there is such thing in these kinds of crises, is that these kids are escaping to the very same country that has fueled the drug-related violence in their homes. I find it so backwards sometimes that policy-wise everyone here is so caught up in border security this, build a wall here, send more boots there, etc. when the root of the problems are our current drug policies and drug consumption levels.
If we're not going to fix our failed drug policies or change our drug habits, the very least we can do is give these young children refuge. Because we've completely robbed them of their homes.