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One sketch shows the sun peeking out over a far-away mountain range, separated by a jagged cliff and the rolling sea. Above the bubbly clouds, the homesick artist has written Guatemala.

For the artist, Guatemala is now more than 1,200 miles away, separated by miles of red tape, plenty of court dates and painful memories of the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The painting hangs on the wall inside a dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland that has been designated to house hundreds of children seized by U.S. border patrol agents.

The children are mostly 14 to 17 years old and came to the United States for a range of unpleasant reasons, including human trafficking, gang violence, abuse and exploitation.

The net to the north

Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has taken in between 6,000 and 7,000 children each fiscal year. According to recent figures, they already have seen 6,891 children in the first seven months of the current fiscal year -- a 93 percent increase over the first seven months of fiscal year 2011.

To accommodate the influx, the Administration for Children and Families has opened five temporary shelters in Texas in recent months, including the one at Lackland. One of the undisclosed shelters in the San Antonio area was closed May 6. The ACF hopes to close the others over the summer.

ACF spokesman Jesus Garcia said the children usually stay at the temporary shelters for 15 days or fewer before they are either placed in a permanent shelter or reunited with family.

During that time, they are regulated under the same guidelines as licensed child care service facilities in Texas. They can be seen by medical professionals and have access to a phone to contact family. They get three meals and two snacks a day and the use of showers, restrooms, clean clothes and their own bed. They also have recreational activities, such as soccer, basketball and time for art.

Shelter in the storm

Working with kids in Central America, they found that they're very interested in painting murals, Garcia said. That's something that in their culture is very important. They find that it's also very theraputic.

Rather than let the kids etch their murals on the walls, they have been provided with butcher paper and art supplies. The young artists have decorated the dormitory with sketches of ducks, a colorful and proud goat, a sun setting over an active beach and even Superman.

One mural shows three roses bound in a red ribbon. Above the bouquet are the words Loque las fronteras dividen los amigos lo unen, which translates to What borders divide, friends help unite.

Another child has displayed a picture of five fairies that he or she has neatly filled in and carefully torn from a page in a coloring book. That child could likely be one of the 14 percent under the age of 14.

Since opening on April 6, there have been 526 children placed at the Lackland temporary shelter. Of those, 276 have been released to family or transfered to a permanent shelter.

Garcia said the main purpose of the ACF program is to protect these kids, shelter them and reunite them with their families, wherever they may be.

Finding home

Once in the permanent shelter, the kids have three ways out. They are either reunited with family, repatriated to their own countries or transferred to border patrol once they turn 18. Most of the kids -- 88 percent -- are reunited with their families.

The journey back to their families may be a long trip to Central America or a grueling run through U.S. immigration courts.

But for many of the troubled children, that journey begins with a short stay in South Texas, where they try to find meaning to life and a place called home.


By the numbers

Percentage of children housed at Lackland from each country (based of FY 2012)

36% Guatemala
25% El Salvador
20% Honduras
12% Mexico
4% Others
3% Ecuador

77% male
23% female

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