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Young Central American Refugees Finding Shelter At Local Charity, Sparking Controversy

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- They're kids, some as young as 5- and 6-years-old, who say they've fled poverty-stricken and gang-invested Central America for the chance of new life in the United States.

Sister Linda Yankoski, of Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, says she feels obligated to give them at least temporary shelter.

"We are answering that call on the basis of what our church teaches, and who we are as Catholics," said Sister Yankoski.

In the coming months, Holy Family will provide food, shelter, clothing and education to some 20 Central American refugees, all under the age of 12.

Still, some in town say they were not consulted.

"The mayor wasn't contacted, the board wasn't contacted," said Robert Keller, of the Eclectic Art Gallery. "Not one person on this street or across the street was contact about this thing."

But while Keller says he worries whether the kids may be involved in the drug gangs they say they're fleeing, neighbor Bob Lang doesn't share his concerns.

"Bring them in," said Lang. "Come on, you have to be compassionate, you have to be humbled and their only children."

Sister Yankoski says each child will stay at the institute an average of two months while they await a deportation hearing at immigration court held here at the Department of Homeland Security on the South Side.

The immigration judge sits in Philadelphia and hears the cases over a closed circuit video screen. The judge determines whether the child should be granted asylum or returned to Central America.

Sister Yankoski says each deserves a fair hearing.

"We do think this is something the United States should do, and we're glad to be a part of that," she said.

Even if Keller believes this should not be our burden.

"Don't we have enough kids here in Pennsylvania that need help? Do you have to go all the way to China or Haiti or all the way to South America," Keller says. "Don't we have enough kids here in Pittsburgh?"

In the coming days and weeks, Sister Yankoski will try to address the concerns and garner some support for her effort to give these kids from Central America at least temporary sanctuary.

Mayor Dee Quinn met with her today to discuss the housing issues. The mayor says the meeting went very well.

Mayor Quinn doesn't want to make it seem as though the children are unwelcome in the community; she says she just wants to make sure the concerns of her constituents are heard.

"The children coming in with some disease, because you know, we have no idea what kind of living conditions they have been living under. Also, you know, are they going to be disruptive to our community? That was two of the really main concerns that the people had," Mayor Quinn said.

For those who want to voice their opinions and concerns, there will town meeting on Tuesday, July 29 at 7 p.m. at the Emsworth Borough Building.

You can hear the whole interview with Mayor Quinn here:

Mayor Quinn On Holy Family Institute Refugee Program

Meanwhile, one of the boys who is being cared for by a local organization is telling his story.

His name is Bartolo. He's a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala; just one of the estimated 60,000 kids who have made the perilous trek from Central America for a chance of new life in the United States.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "Why did he leave Guatemala?"

Bartolo's Translator: "There is no money there. We are very poor. So I wanted to help my family."

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Through Sister Janice Vanderneck, Bartolo tells his tale. How he, like the others, paid for fake papers and a bus ride across Mexico to the U.S. border.

That's where he shelled out additional cash for smugglers who took him across the Rio Grande and left him to fend for himself in the desert.

"We had to walk a lot. The heat was tremendous," Bartolo said through Sister Vanderneck. "At night, the animals come out, dangerous animals.

He was picked up by immigration agents and detained in Houston and Miami before being placed with relatives in our area. He has already had two court hearings.

Bartolo faces a third immigration hearing at the Department of Homeland Security on the South Side in the next three weeks, but his chances of staying in the United States may not be very good.

An immigration judge sitting in Philadelphia will hear his case over closed circuit video. But unlike other kids from Honduras and El Salvador, who are fleeing the violence and servitude in drug gangs, Bartolo is here to escape poverty, which may not qualify for asylum.

Even so, he says being force to return would be a crushing blow to him and his family.

"My family spent a lot of money to get me here, and I went through a lot of difficulties in Mexico and in the desert, and it would be very sad if I had to go back," he said.

Local Organization Taking In Central American Refugees (7/16/14)
Immigration Studies Legal Analyst Says President Is Misinterpreting Law (7/16/14)
More Reports by Andy Sheehan

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