HHS officials open gates of Somervell County camp housing refugee minors
HHS officials open gates of Somervell County camp housing refugee minors
SOMERVELL COUNTY, TX – Pinned above the doorway to Clegg No. 5 is a handwritten and crayon-colored sign that reads, “Jesus Christ is mi love.” The sign sits between coloring book pages depicting children’s television characters SpongeBob Square Pants and Tweety Bird.
A copy of Nuevo Testamento sits atop each neatly made bed of the dormitory on the Camp Arrowhead campus and two pairs of blue Crocs, presumably used as shower shoes to prevent infection and contamination, sit at the foot of each set of bunk beds.
Outside, 171 boys hailing from Central America can be seen playing pick-up basketball, conversing with camp supervisors, scaling a jungle gym or passing around soccer balls.
For all intents and purposes, the scene looks no different than any other church camp. However, the camp deemed “Echo” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is playing host to a group of minors who have all illegally crossed the U.S. border.
HHS deemed the camp an all boys destination due to the configuration of the cabins, and informed the touring media on Monday that additional facilities would be needed to house girls or infants. Also as of Monday afternoon, eight of the originally placed 179 boys had already been escorted to DFW Airport to be released to a sponsor, HHS officials confirmed.
There are approximately 150 BCFS – the emergency management company under private contract with the U.S. Government – employees or volunteers currently on staff at Camp Arrowhead. According to HHS officials, the number of employees and volunteers is needed in order to provide, at minimum, one adult supervisor for every eight children 24 hours a day.
The around the clock watch is in order to provide “security for the children, as well as for the community itself,” said Andrea Helling, acting director of the Office of Communications with HHS. At almost any point during the walk around the camp, a uniformed security officer or emergency vehicle was visible.
HHS Officials assured U.S. Rep. Roger Williams during his tour of the campus that the children would not be leaving the camp “because it is so secure.”
“They have off duty officers there that I am sure are going to do a great job, but if people want to leave where they are, there is always a history of them doing it,” Williams said. “However, I have great faith in our local law enforcement and their ability to make certain that that does not happen.”
To ensure the minors do not wonder away from the camp, as well as to keep all involved safe from any and all outside events – including weather-related ones – Camp Arrowhead has been retroactively fitted with a state-of-the-art command center.
The command center is the exact same as what would be used for any temporary shelter location or used at an emergency medical location, such as those BCFS provided during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita.
There are six large Samsung flat-screen TVs and a combination of seven laptops and computers inside the command center, and the TV screens connected to the computers show at all times:
- Inbound and outbound children
- Censuses of other camps and have the capability to track any minor at any camp using the minor’s assigned “alien number,” a BCFS spokesperson confirmed. This includes the ability to locate a minor down to the bed he or she is sleeping in.
- The Battle Rhythm or the daily schedule of all temporary camps
- Local and state weather
- A vehicle tracker that tracks every vehicle in BCFS’ fleet. For example the vehicles being taken to the airport could be tracked from the time they departed the camp until the time they arrived back.
- An “event diary” that shows a running record of every event that has occurred since the camp opened. For example, the recent tornado warning.
“Our job is to ensure that the jurisdiction of the community is not affected by anything,” a BCFS emergency management official stated.
To further ensure the health and safety of the children and surrounding community, the camp also has a working medical unit.
The unit is capable of treating everyday bumps and bruises that occur from the various sports the children play, sicknesses from the changing weather, and even the ability to recognize and diagnose illnesses of a more severe level. The minors are treated or examined in one of the three private exam rooms and the staff of seven licensed professionals are ready to respond 24 hours a day.
HHS and BCFS officials report that there have been no medical issues thus far.
However for many, including Rep. Williams, the real issue at hand has little to do with the normalcy and check points of Camp Arrowhead, and everything to do with the manner in which the minors arrived to the U.S.
“What it gets down to is the Obama administration not wanting to secure the borders,” Williams said. “If we had border security and border enforcement, then we would not have these folks coming up, but we don’t have that and unfortunately it has touched us locally right here in Somervell County.
“We have unaccompanied illegals from Central America who have been brought into this camp for 21 days and then they will leave to be turned over to sponsors or parents who are here illegally. That’s a big issue. They are going to turn them over to illegals to take them to their court hearings and so forth, which we know will never happen. We have illegals being turned over to illegals.”
The minors occasionally have identification when they cross the border, Helling said, but she also noted that it is not uncommon for the children to cross without identification. Helling stated that the majority of the minors being under legal age to obtain a license is the main reason for no identification. HHS works with constituents in the home country to obtain legal documents, such as birth certificates, officials explained.
“All have been mentally and medically checked and all are up-to-date on vaccinations,” Helling reassured.
For Dr. David Downs, District Superintendent West Texas Church of the Nazarene, the ability to utilize the camp to assist the minors is a blessing and an honor.
“When we learned about these young boys, we were glad we were in a position to welcome them. Particularly after Christmas,” Downs said, “I think it’s appropriate as we think about the story of Mary and Joseph and little Jesus fleeing for safety to Egypt, that we can provide a safe and wholesome environment for these boys, even though it is just for a few weeks. I wish it could be longer.
“I don’t fully understand all of the political implications, but I know that we, as Christians, are compelled to pray for our governor, our president, and our lawmakers, as well as law enforcement officers.
“Also, we are compelled to be compassionate and helpful, whenever we have the opportunity to do so. Having these boys at Camp Arrowhead gives us an opportunity to do that. I am especially grateful for our camp staff and for all of the volunteers who are working to make this possible.”
The minors, most of which were transferred from the Ellis County camp, can remain in Camp Arrowhead for up-to 21 days before they have to be relocated. However, there is an opportunity to return for up-to 19 additional days, as Texas law states that a camp cannot be used for temporary refugee services for more than 40 days in a calendar year.