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LILLIAN SALCIDO Refugee children In the Rio Grande Valley the detention project, describes the center, such fears are misguided. “It is not a detention center at all,” he says. “And if it was, I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. There will be no barbed wire, fences, or bars. It’s a humane emergency center for kids six to 17 years who have no other place to stay.”‘ A house about four miles from the adult detentiOn center is being renovated to hold up to 24 children, says Sanchez, who is now director of the Texas Key Program for delinquent children in San Antonio and was formerly director of La Esperanza Home for Boys in Brownsville. According to the contract with Community Relations Service, the shelter will provide children with recreation, education, counseling, and information about lawyers.. It will provide these services with a staff of 16 for about $400,000 a year in federal dollars. Sanchez will commute from San Antonio one ‘to two days a week. The board of International Educational Services, which will also serve as the board of the shelter, is now looking for a full-time director. SANCHEZ HAS A GOOD reputation in the Valley for his work at La Esperanza. But refugee advocates here feel he’s being naive about the refugee shelter’s relationship with the INS. For example, one of the main fears about the shelter is that children will be held as bait for undocumented parents. Sanchez says he doesn’t believe parents will have to actually present themselves to claim the children. “They won’t have to come and get them if they’re in Chicago or New York,” he says. “We’re going to be moving toward family reunification. We’re going to be trying to track down the family.” However, the program document prepared by Community Relations Service makes it clear that undocumented parents must report to claim their children and that they will at that time be placed in deportation proceedings. “If the parent is undocumented,” reads the description, “the child would be released to the parent’s custody after the parents were processed by INS and subsequently assigned to a deportation docket.” The parents will not be detained, the description continues, unless they are found to be the subject of a criminal warrant. “Think of the emotional ordeal for the parents and the child,” says Ninfa Krueger, director of the Border Association ‘ for Central American Refugees. “The parents have to decide whether to claim the minor, risking deportation. And how can they afford to come’ down here and claim the child? These things are very unfair.” Also, although Sanchez and CRS officials emphasize the open atmosphere the shelters will have, the description makes it clear that the children “remain in the legal custody of the INS” and that shelter employees must take precautions to “prevent the unauthor ized release of minors in care.” What that means, essentially, is that children could spend months in detention because they are unable to contact family members in the U.S. or because they don’t have the appropriate family members here to whom the INS says they may be released. Generally, the INS will allow the release of a minor only to a parent, legal guardian, aunt, or uncle. “All final decisions regarding the release of minors to relatives will be made by officials of the INS,” states the CRS description. As long as the. INS is essentially controlling the shelters, refugee advocates will have no reason to trust CRS or the contracting agency. Father DePasquale points out the numerous problems he has had trying to help the minors more than 100 who have been detained temporarily at Port Isabel. “The officials tell them nothing not that they are in temporary detention, that they’ll be transferred, that they have the right to see a lawyer,” he says. “It took me. three to four weeks to get permission from Ruiz [Cecilio Ruiz, assistant director for detention and deportation] to counsel these kids. The guards aren’t very cooperative. The deportation officials tell me this is none of my business. They’re making it as difficult as possible here.” Finally, many advocates question so much time and attention being paid to education, recreation, and counseling of the children when they are being processed for deporta tion back to the poverty and war they fled. “We don’t want to be involved in the INS detention of children, most of whom have excellent claims to asylum,” says . Marta Brenden of the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services in Washington, D.C. She says her group was approached by the government to run the shelters but has refused. “We know virtually no children from Central America will attain asylum,” she said. “So why should we want to become a part of the process?” The bottom line, according to critics, is that children should not be detained for the misdemeanor of entering the U.S. without inspection. There exist many social agencies, churches, and refugee advocate groups who will help these children contact family or friends in the U.S. or, if the children are truly alone, care for them pending asylum hearings. The INS, with its “alien minor shelters,” will be able to provide minors with shoes that fit. But Jose has faced worse. To a visitor, he showed a wound on his chest that he said resulted from a landmine explosion in a field outside San Miguel. With his fear of being drafted by either the guerrillas or the military, Jose left to try to join his uncle in the U.S. But he hasn’t been able to track down his only relative in the U.S. “Now I’m here alone, with no one to help me,” he said. The promise of a new pair of shoes does not even bring a smile to his face. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17