LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas June 5, 2014— -- One boy in particular is among the 1,200 children being housed at an emergency shelter set up at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. He drew a touching picture with crayons hanging on the wall in his dorm room with the caption, "Echo de menos a mi familia," which means I miss my family.
Children like this boy, who is from Mexico, are surging into the U.S. from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and earlier this week President Obama declared an “urgent humanitarian situation” along the Southwest border because of the wave of unaccompanied, undocumented children.
The children are sent back to their home countries if no relative is found in the U.S. to take them. In 2013, 88 percent of the children were reunited with a family member or sponsor after an average stay of 40 days, officials said.
Illegal immigration is not new, but the number of children crossing dangerous territory by themselves lately is causing alarm.
Kenneth Wolfe, who is with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, told ABC News this year his agency expects to take in nearly 60,000 children, some just toddlers.
Some of these children are traveling alone now because their parents can finally afford to send for them, but most are escaping gangs and drug violence in their home countries.
The number of children is so overwhelming the U.S. Border Patrol is now stocking up on formula, diapers and children's clothes. Relief agencies are flocking to the Texas border to help with this influx.
One border patrol agent relayed the story of a toddler she saw crossing one of the bridges from Mexico into the U.S., a boy who had been sent on his own past Mexican security literally into the arms of a border patrol agent.
The children who come into Lackland are first processed on the border where they are taken into custody, given food and water and immediate medical treatment, then sent to this spotless barracks where they meet with counselors, get medical treatment, and classes in English and math, plus time to play games and soccer.
The barracks they are housed in are reminiscent of a 1960's elementary school building with cement block walls. Even the lunches remind one of school - chicken fingers, corn, biscuits, apples and bananas.
Girls and boys are housed separately - 60 kids grouped to a dorm room - and their rooms are decorated with drawings, and craft paper chains. Children fleeing from violence who were laughing and joking and eagerly anticipating the coming World Cup.