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The young girls reportedly have access to warm beds, medical care and food services to provide them with adequate meals.
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Well, this is a site designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services, following the law that after these children are received at the border, they can't stay at the border patrol station for more than 72 hours. And I think what we're seeing here is the Biden administration is pushing as hard as they can to ensure the safety and security of these children. This is a transition system or center, if you will. Children who are here who have been provided an opportunity to connect with a family member, a parent, and do it expeditiously, and then move to that family member.
There are places for 500 children, 300 are here already. They are well taken care of. They have warm beds. The last time I saw, they were eating good food. And they were smiling. And that's the best thing for me. They were smiling and they were very safe and secure and waiting to reunite with their families. I think it's important for everyone to know that this is a temporary shelter. These children will be processed through either their request for asylum or their request for some immigration status through their family members. And the task of the federal government in this instance is to move them safely, securely, and expeditiously.
- There's no perfect scenario when it comes to these sort of things. Do you feel like everything that can be done is being done?
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Well, one thing I think is important is in sharp contrast to the administration right before this, is that we are providing the recognition that sending children back unaccompanied is sometimes, a tragic end happens. Biden administration believes that this is a humanitarian effort. The response is humanitarian. And they are committed to not sending back unaccompanied children. They have sent back single individuals and families, but not unaccompanied children. So as far as it relates to what we're doing, yes. Warm, welcoming, and caring people are here through the National Association of Christian Churches.
Many volunteers are asking to be part of this. That is part of the federal government's vetting system. And so anyone that volunteers has to be vetted. Working with the Red Cross, working with the public health system, we have a full medical team there, a full food service that the children can enjoy, and as well snacks. There will be movies. And I believe what is happening here is a standard for the American people to know that this is what America is all about. This is my congressional district. I reached out to the National Association of Christian Churches, knowing their commitment to serving.
And the federal government made the decision that this would be an acceptable response for children who have been on the road, some of them for three months. All of them having to cross the Rio Grande at night. And if anyone can imagine, it was pretty dangerous, as some of them said. Pretty icky, as some of them said. I'm grateful that they are safe, they're warm, and that there was an opportunity for them to process through our immigration system, our asylum system. And that we're doing this in a right and orderly way. I went to the border, starting many years ago, 2014.
I held babies coming off buses in my arms, the dark of night. The Obama administration worked very hard to do centers around in the South Texas area. Four years under the Trump administration, unfortunately, that was literally ignored and imploded. And children were in cages. And so as members of Congress, we wanted to encourage the Biden administration not to do that. Their own heart and passion for children suggested that they would not. And so what we're seeing, and there are a number of sites like this in Texas. This is the first in Houston along with, as we know, Catholic charities.
And so we are grateful to Catholic charities. We are grateful to Pastor Ortega and this organization for opening their hearts, first of all, to safely receive these children, and to also ensure that these children, through the Health and Human Services, are moved toward a family member that has been vetted, a guardian, a sponsor, and then of course that they are safe and secure. And we ask the public to realize if they would protect their privacy. Because these are children. Children are still coming.
- 300 right now, but room for 500.
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Correct.
- And how long do you expect them to stay, whenever a child gets here, how long is their stay expected or estimated to be sort of?
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: They don't have an estimate. The one thing that I can say is that as soon as they come, full physical, taken care of in terms of clean clothing, and immediately begin the process to find that loved one.
- Do you think there--
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Far different from what we did four years ago when we separated children from their families, we expelled family members, and were still here in this country where there are children that have not been reunited with their family. In this instance, these children will be processed. And again, they go through an immigration process either through asylum or other processes that will decide whether they stay or not stay. But they will be provided the opportunity to be with that family member while they're going through this process.
- OK. Do you know if there will be more shelters like this opening up?
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: This will be the determination of the Biden administration and those who might say yes. Right now we have at least five or six in the state of Texas, more than any other state. I think that speaks to the big heart of Texans. They go from Dallas to Midland to San Antonio and now Houston. We have a big heart. We understand how to take care of children in this state. I know the Biden administration is, I think they are very welcoming. This is all the way up to that level of concern. And I think they are very much pleased that they found people that are qualified, that are able, that facilities are in keeping with the standards that are necessary when the federal government is involved.
And by the way, FEMA's here, Department of Homeland Security, the public health team is here from HHS. We are not lacking in federal presence here to ensure the safety of these children. If more are needed and they are able to find more in and around this community, in and around the state, that will be the decision of the federal government.
- You mentioned there's 300 children here. When might more children show up? Is that expected today, later today, tomorrow?
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: That is not something that is public knowledge and not something that we are able to express. But we are welcoming. We want to take care of the children that is there now. The organization wants to be as helpful and as supportive as they can and that's what they're doing.
- What would you say to the critics?
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Well, this is an interesting weekend that this has happened. For Christians, it is a very special and holy weekend from Good Friday to what we call Resurrection Sunday. For other faith, it's Passover, the Jewish community, which is a very special holiday, religious time for them. And the only thing I would say is that these are children. And all of us would want the hand of humanitarianism to be extended to any child. That's all that this country is doing, is to extend to a child the opportunity to flee from violence, from disaster, from the inability to be taken care of, which is the stories that we have heard.
And I'm grateful to the Biden administration for this humanitarian response. And during this particular holy weekend. I can't imagine that anyone would think that we would do anything to undermine the values of this nation, that we are caring, and we are a democracy, and we have the ability, and we care for our children. And one thing that is very important to Americans is to not treat wrongly children. And we've seen some very tragic situations. And we press forward to try and make sure that children are helped.
I might just say the American Jobs Plan is legislation that deals with helping children in addition to helping everyone else, the child tax credit. So I don't want people to think that we're not loving and looking at the children of this country. But here are people who are children, who are unaccompanied, who came through treacherous conditions, who left violent and treacherous conditions and have a loved one here. And the Bush administration made a commitment that they would not send back unaccompanied children to face the devastation, disaster, violence that might come about.
We know that the way they've traveled is a dangerous way. We've seen children dropped over walls. We've seen children that drowned. It has to break your heart. And so we don't want to be part of that. We want to be part of using the immigration laws of America. Let these children be processed. Let a determination be made. And let them be with their families in the interim. And that's what we're doing here. This transition center, this center is keeping them comforted while they're going through that process. And it is committed through HHS to move these children as quickly as possible.
- You mentioned the situation at the border. What do you say to those, again, critics that say that this is because of some of the Biden pushback from the former administration, taking back some of their former policies and loosening up things at the border. Is there anything we can do to sort of stop the flow of people coming? Because we have seen an increase.
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: The increase is not attributable to President Biden. He is a humanitarian who recognizes that he leads a country that has been looked at as a beacon of hope for immigrants for ages, centuries. The Statue of Liberty still stands in the New York harbor. It still symbolizes America. I've been to the other side of the border and that is the MPP program, Remain in Mexico. Mexico is not able to continue to maintain these unaccompanied children. It is a disaster. They are being plagued as relates to no place to live, no support system. And it's not a tenable system.
The last administration didn't care. But it's not a tenable system. You're squatting. And I understand Mexico's plight in maybe not being able to take care of all these children. So that is not a tenable solution. I would ask anybody who wants to say it is to go over there and look and see what these children are facing. They're all squatting, looking toward the border. So what the president has said, if they make it to the United States, if they make it to the United States, we will treat them as unaccompanied children.
We'll treat this as a humanitarian response through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. We will follow the immigration laws. They will have the petition in some manner. And we will address it through the courts. I think that is a presidential response. I think it is a response that befits who we are as a nation. And certainly in this particular time in Houston, this is a redemption weekend for those of us who are of the Christian faith. And I couldn't imagine a better act to do than to save the lives of children who are desperate and who are seeking, yes, they're old enough to seek a better life. But again, through the immigration process they will be channeled while they are with their loved one.