State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.
State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Whenever there is talk about a topic of interest that is not backed up by credible facts, people tend to make up the facts to fill that void. Let’s not speculate or make up false facts here.

The public needs to know the truth surrounding the efforts by the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), in response to the recent arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors from several countries south of the Texas border.

DFPS and DSHS helpers are busy cooperating with local and state law enforcement and federal officials to address health and safety issues for these children. Whatever you may think about the political drama that surrounds this issue, these children are too young and naïve to have decided on their own free will to come to the United States without their parents. It is important to assure their safety and well-being because it is the humanitarian thing – the right thing – to do.

Community safety is another important goal of these efforts by DFPS and DSHS. Health screenings are as important for these children as they would be for adults immigrating with documentation. DSHS providers are able to utilize federally-funded vaccination programs to help prevent the spread of flu or tuberculosis that some of the children might have. Immunizations and treatment are essential to prevent the spread of those diseases. Wherever they are placed, they need sinks, showers and bathroom facilities for personal hygiene, and a decent place to sleep. The Department of Defense (DoD) is providing space at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for some of the children so that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can house them temporarily, then place them where they need to be. In addition, DFPS providers are working to find proper locations outside of federal facilities for the children to stay, helping keep them safe and in a secure location.

Whether the official status of these children is that of refugee, asylee, or simply that of an abandoned child, they are vulnerable. Some of them may be sick, and fearful to be far away from home without parental protection and supervision. Many of them came here through Mexico on a train called “The Beast.” Some of them may be in the company of an adult who is not their parent, and who may plan to exploit them rather than help them. As reported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are criminal smuggling networks that pay to deliver a child to the United States only as a commodity to be traded for money. Once in the hands of these smugglers, many children are traumatized and psychologically abused by their journey. Even worse, they may be beaten, starved, sexually assaulted or sold into the sex trade. In 2000, the U.S. Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act requiring that all unaccompanied alien children be screened as potential human trafficking victims.

Keep in mind that these children have no political affiliation. From ages zero to seventeen, some of them may be so young they cannot explain where they came from, or why they were sent here. These children do not deserve to face further neglect and abandonment while they are here. Charitable and faith-based organizations need your help with supplies or donations, if you are in a position to give them. If you are not, one thing we can all do is pray for the safety and well-being of these children, which has nothing to do with attention-grabbing political headlines. It is the honorable thing to do.

Ruth Jones McClendon is state representative for Texas House District 120. A Democrat from San Antonio, she currently serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Transportation. She also serves as Chair of the House Committee on Rules & Resolutions. The 83rd Legislative Session is her ninth term serving in the Texas House.