Children Fleeing Central America Brought To
Kansas & Missouri

Forty thousand unaccompanied immigrant children have traveled thousands of miles to the United States border. These young children left their homes in Central America, leaving behind friends and family, wars and hunger to begin an uncertain journey towards a new life.

They endured harsh conditions and once across the border, they have been packed into facilities waiting for an immigration hearing or a social service agency to help them connect with family or relatives already living in the US.

Hispanic News learned that close to 200 undocumented children had arrived in Kansas City, Kansas and were being housed or helped by Catholic Charities. A call to Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas confirmed that the children were in Kansas City, Kansas.

Charlie Vaughan lives near the Catholic Charities building at 22nd and Central Avenue. He applauds the work that Catholic Charities does and supports them if they are helping the undocumented immigrant children.

“Those kids pose no threat to us. They could be a positive influence; some of those kids could be our leaders of tomorrow. We can’t throw them back. I am not in favor of that,” said Vaughan.

The children’s arrival has been low key – the agencies taking them in do not want the vehicles carrying the children confronted by protesters.

In early August, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley announced they had applied for federal government grants to temporarily house undocumented children coming through the border. Slay asked several social agencies, including Catholic Charities and the International Institute, to come up with a plan to house 60 undocumented children in existing facilities in St. Louis.

If St. Louis’ application is approved, the children could start arriving in September.

Some of the immigrant children have been housed at U.S. Military installations for weeks before moving to agencies in other cities. Fort Sill Army Post in Oklahoma was is one of those facilities. Over a thousand of children in their charge were released and placed with a sponsor in the United States. Following that discharge, the base still cared for over 700 children.

These children are trickling into Missouri and Kansas City. The Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Kansas City, Missouri has been assisting children in similar predicaments for a number of years and they continue to do so today.

They did not say how many children could be coming to their organization as they are waiting for their request to assist the children to be approved by the federal government.

“A few months back there was a Request for Proposal (RFP) that we were going to participate in which I guess is similar to the Safe Passage. They were going to identify a percentage of the unaccompanied children that has family in the US. Whether documented or not, they were going to place those kids with their families. Our role was going to be to provide casework for the first six months. Some of the kids we would help would not necessarily be in the Kansas City area, but some would be in our area. That has not been funded yet, so the program is not in place yet,” said Steve Weitkamp, director of Refugee and Immigration Services at JVS.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) cares for the children in shelters around the country until they can be released to a sponsor, parent or relative who can care for the child while their immigration case is processed.

ORR recently released a map of the United States showing how many children have been sent to each state. As of August 1, Kansas has received 207 children and Missouri has 146 children.

“I think ORR has been looking for places for these kids to be cared for in an humane way all around the country,” said Weitkamp.

The children coming across the border and into the United States has drawn a mix reaction from citizens across the country. Some people want to help the children and others want Congress and President Barack Obama to send the children back to their homelands.

Ernest who lives across the street from the Catholic Charities office in Kansas City, Kansas is a retired Army Ranger and has traveled the world. He told Hispanic News that he has seen first hand some of the horrors the children have lived through every day.

“All children need help. I don’t care where they come from, they are human beings. Give them a chance. That is what they need, just a chance,” he said.

The Save the Children organization has been working to give children a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. On their website, they have the story of 10-year-old Eduardo who fled his home in El Salvador because of ‘Black Fridays’ when violent gangs raged throughout the city breaking into homes and into schools.

He talks about crossing the border with his mother and sister. They waited at an abandoned brick house for a van to pick them up. They were driven to the river where the men prepared an inflatable raft and they crossed the river.

They were told to wait by the river but no one ever came. So the group began to walk and eventually was met by the Border Patrol.

Vaughan knows that many of his neighbors in Kansas City, Kansas have escaped similar violence and sought out a better life, but he also knows that the government must fix the broken immigration system. He doesn’t have the answer nor does he think it will be simple.

“We have to deal with the border and illegal immigrants coming in at will. People that are already here, many of them are the fabric of our society. In the case of the children, what are you going to do with them? Put them on buses and send them back to crime-infested areas? They are here and we have to treat them as humans,” he said.