HOMESTEAD, Fla. - South Florida is prepared to shelter possibly hundreds of children who have escaped danger and poverty in Central America.
Local 10 News has learned that the first unaccompanied minors might start arriving in South Florida in the coming days.
Officials said the number of children crossing the U.S. border is up and the children need a temporary place to go.
Beyond the guarded fences of a Homestead tent city, dozens of contracted workers have been trained to care for and counsel children arriving without families from an unimaginable trek across borders from Central American countries through Mexico.
Some will be traumatized, possibly physically and/or sexually abused. They are escaping gang threats and violence borne of extreme poverty, as Local 10 News has documented.
Legally, they are called "unaccompanied alien children," and there is room in Homestead for up to 800 of them.
Officials said the children range in age from 7 to 18 years old and most are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
"In the summer of 2014, there was a big scramble to try to figure out how to make sure we had a safe place for them and that they could be treated fairly and have their cases reviewed, and they can have legal representation," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-Florida) said.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), who represents the district where the tent city has arisen, said in a statement Tuesday, "It is difficult to know if the numbers will continue to increase, but I believe we must be prepared with the necessary resources to assist these vulnerable children."
The children will eat, play and sleep in the tent city, and schooling and medical care will also take place on-site. There will be people there to guide the children through their immigration cases and to connect them with family or sponsors.
The children will have no contact with the outside South Florida community.
Since 2014, the top three states receiving children have been California, Texas and Florida.
The tent city is federally funded by President Barack Obama's request for $400 million in contingency funds to accommodate unaccompanied minors, as well as by the $950 million that had already been allocated to deal with the issue.
Officials said the average time it takes for a child to go through the sponsorship process and move to a more permanent location is 34 days.
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