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Local organizations weigh how to best help immigrant chlidren

Texas Governor Rick Perry says he will send 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the southern border, where more than 52-thousand unaccompanied children have crossed into the United States in the last eight months.

“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Perry said in a Monday news conference in Austin.

The surge of children crossing the U.S. border is being called a humanitarian crisis and has several federal agencies coordinating efforts to temporarily house immigrant children, process them and reunite them with family members.

The vast majority of unaccompanied children are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Humanitarian groups say poverty, increased violence and family reunification are some of the reasons children are fleeing their homeland and seeking asylum in the United States.

While several humanitarian groups and organizations are looking for ways to offer aid,  many say they are in a “holding pattern” while the federal government decides how to proceed in handling the tens of thousands of children who are living in overcrowded detention facilities.

The children cannot be placed into expedited removal proceedings under the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law which requires all unaccompanied children to be screened as potential victims of human trafficking.

Radio DJ Oscar Contreras says the immigration crisis is a huge topic of discussion on his Christian radio show.  He’s hosted several humanitarian  groups that say they are looking for ways to help, but admit the process is complicated.

“Some of  these kids are losing their memory because of the trauma they are going through, some kids don’t know who their parents are,” Contreras says.

Contreras says several organizations were discussing  potential aid last month when U.S. officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considered housing illegal immigrant children on the campus of the old St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville.  However, strong local opposition put the plan on hold.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Charities organization in Richmond tells CBS 6 that several aid options are being discussed, but no concrete plans are in place.

The organization, which helps refugees in the United States, says it’s difficult because the government has not classified immigrant children as refugees.

Richmond-based Child Fund is also coordinating efforts to offer aid, including education and health care services to children in South Texas, but has not yet finalized plans.

Under international law, children should be detained only as a last resort and for the shortest amount of time possible in the least restrictive setting.

“No matter what happens,” Contreras says, “We need to reconnect them to their families.”

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