© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Children Fleeing Violence In Central America Land In Texas

UNHCR Washington

Texas Matters: The Texas-Mexico border is seeing a human wave of children from Central America, but what can be done about it? Texas moves to privatize a big part of the foster care program, but will it make the troubled system any safer for the children? Also on this show: Is Texas ready for online voter registration?

Unaccompanied (immigrant) minors

Ten of thousands of children are turning up at the Texas-Mexico border. These unaccompanied minors are fleeing a humanitarian crisis in Central America and most of them are being apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol.

The number of children has overwhelmed the detention facilities and forced homeland security to open a temporary shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. It’s estimated that Lackland is holding over a thousand of these children some are as young as three years old.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been studying the problem and recently released a report called Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection.

Nicole Boehner is a protection associate for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:

"We are really talking about what is a humanitarian crisis. And the migration of these children -- many of whom are coming to the U.S. -- is really a symptom of this crisis. For this year U.S. government authorities have projected upwards of 60,000 unaccompanied children -- a child without a parent or legal guardian with them -- coming to the U.S. to seek protection; basically a nine-fold increase in the numbers of these kids from the northern triangle region of Central America, which is Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras."

Advocates, state officials fight over foster care overhaul

For years the Texas foster care system has been plagued with inadequate outcomes and even a high number of children dying while in state custody. The state legislature has tried a number of reforms and fixes and is now moving towards privatization of the oversight of Child Protective Services.

But child advocates are critical of the makeover, saying other states have tried similar efforts and ended up with lack luster results.

Emily DePrang reports on the new take on the old challenges facing the Texas foster care system. She is a staff writer for the Texas Observer.

"Texas has never come out and said that they want to save money by bringing in more privatization to the system -- it is already partially privatized -- but they did decide that they wanted to improve all of these different metrics for kids, which include: placing siblings together, moving kids fewer times. They want to do better at those goals but they didn't want to add any more money to the foster care system. So they brought in these -- I call them to myself 'regional overlords' because they are these large child-placing agencies that are supposed to oversee smaller child-placing agencies and use the same money that the state was spending to try to get better outcomes. So the idea is that they will be able to do a better job, but the problem is that no state that has privatized their foster care system has ever seen better outcomes --  financially or in terms of these metrics that you can look at and try to numerically understand what a child's experience is."

Also on this edition of Texas Matters:

Is Texas ready for online voter registration?

In the aftermath of the recent primary runoffs, one of the startling bits of information is just how few people voted. Under 5 percent of registered voters took part, and it’s been clear for a long time that Texas has a low voter turnout problem.

But would online voter registration help change that? Backers of online voter registration say it might but that’s not the main reason for adopting the electronic system.

David Becker is the director of the Election Initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts. He recently testified before the state Legislature about the benefits of online voter registration.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi