Still, several Catholic Charities agencies across the country are helping to provide legal representation for the young migrants, who, after they are processed by Customs and Border Protection and placed with relatives or caretakers, undergo deportation proceedings in the immigration courts. In some cases, the minors may have legitimate grounds for asylum, but their fate depends on the individual judges.
Burgo said Catholic Charities USA is partnering with FEMA to identify temporary shelters to house the migrants, who are too numerous for the Border Patrol stations to accommodate. By law, the Border Patrol is required to process undocumented migrants within 72 hours before handing them over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. But the Border Patrol stations and ORR shelters have been overwhelmed, resulting in the migrants staying several days, if not weeks, in facilities without food, beds, or bathrooms.
"There have been horrific stories of kids being denied medical care in these Customs and Border Protection stations. There are no real standards in those stations that govern how the migrants are to be treated," said Small, of Jesuit Refugee Services.
Many children have been relocated to military bases or large warehouse-type facilities. FEMA, with the assistance of Catholic Charities USA, has been looking for new shelter facilities, often in Catholic settings.
"Catholic dioceses across the country have empty convents. They might have an empty school, an empty retreat center, or another empty building that could be used as a facility," said Burgo, who recently visited one such temporary Catholic Charities shelter at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, which is located on the Rio Grande. Sacred Heart Church is located two blocks from a bus station where young migrants, including women with children, are dropped off by Border Patrol.
"Many people try to take advantage of them at the bus shelter. The Sacred Heart center offers a respite, a place of care and compassion," Burgo said. "These women and children will come to the center, receive a hot meal, a hot shower, and opportunities for a full medical exam. Some of the children are coming with very little clothing, so we give them some clothes for them to regain a sense of their dignity."
The Sacred Heart shelter helps an average of 200 migrants a day, and has served more than 3,000 people. The volunteers also help the migrants obtain bus tickets to reunite with relatives or caretakers who will take them in while their deportation cases are pending in the courts.
"People have a right to migrate, to find a place that is safe and offers security for their families," Burgo said. "They also have the right not to migrate. Their countries of origin are their homes, but if they do not feel comfortable in their homes, they are going to migrate."
Richard Jones, Catholic Relief Services’ deputy regional director for Global Solidarity and Justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, told Aleteia that people have as much a right to stay in their homes as they do to migrate.
"We have to foster opportunities for people at home, for education, to create jobs, and to establish safety. The United States will spend over $2 billion just to process the minors. It would be good to invest that money into development so people wouldn’t have to migrate," said Jones, who has spent the past 24 years in El Salvador. He said the violence in the region has reached epidemic proportions in recent years.
"More than 80 percent of cocaine headed to the United States through Mexico now comes through Central America. The cartels are fighting for who controls the routes. It’s not so much government corruption per se as it is the gangs wanting to control territory, and that is creating this forced displacement of peoples," Jones said.
Despite the violence back home and the trauma they experience while traveling north, the unaccompanied young migrants still have an inner joy and hope for a better life, Lopez said.
"They’re incredibly resilient. It’s amazing to see, despite everything they’ve gone through, they’re still enthusiastic to learn everything we have to tell them about our immigration system," Lopez said. "I think it really gives us a very strong sense of wanting to help them. We see the kind of hope they have."