People of Northwest Public Radio
Tue June 24, 2014
JBLM Eyed As Possible Shelter for Immigrant Kids
A flood of immigrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border could spill over into Washington state. For some of these undocumented kids, their journey north could lead to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma.
Most of these children are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. They make the journey alone, or with help from a smuggler. Their average age is 14.
This year, U.S. agencies on the border are seeing a massive surge in the number of these unaccompanied minors. The feds are overwhelmed and looking for extra bed space as they sort through individual cases.
In a statement, U.S. Representative Denny Heck, of Olympia, confirmed that the feds are considering Joint Base Lewis-McChord as a temporary shelter. But it’s unclear for how many kids, or how soon.
Megan McKenna is a spokeswoman for Kids In Need of Defense. It’s a group founded by Microsoft to provide legal help to kids in exactly this type of situation.
McKenna says she’s concerned whether these temporary shelters will have adequate services for these children. Many arrive here traumatized.
“We know for example that many, many of the girls experience sexual violence along the journey, and there are more girls coming alone than ever before," McKenna said. “And some of these children, these girls, are pregnant as a result of these assaults.”
If any children are sent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, McKenna’s hopeful her group will be able to provide legal help and counseling there. She says many minors could qualify for asylum or other legal status.
A spokeswoman from Governor Jay Inslee’s office also says they’re in contact with federal officials and closely monitoring what they call “an urgent humanitarian situation.”
Copyright 2014 KUOW
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