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Judge Clay Jenkins On His Visit to McAllen, Plans For Immigrant Children

Justin Martin
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins (right) tells KERA's Rick Holter: "This is about children. It’s a core American value."";

With a single statement last weekend, County Judge Clay Jenkins put Dallas in the center of the national debate over the 52,000 immigrant children who’ve crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since last fall.

Jenkins offered to take roughly 2,000 of the kids into new temporary North Texas centers by the end of the month. In this week’s Friday Conversation, the county’s top official sits down with KERA’s vice president of news, Rick Holter.

Interview Highlights: Clay Jenkins…

…on what he saw in McAllen: “These children are being kept in holding cells, like the drunk tank at your county jail. In cells that are designed for one fourth the number of children that are in the cells. There is no activity, no play area. The children are taking up every inch of the cells with their legs bunched up, sitting on the floor. Some crying, some zoned out. These are children anywhere from the age of below 1 up to 17 years old. I saw babies in need of their diaper being changed and I saw border patrol agents change that diaper and try to console that child.”

…on the centers to house children in Dallas County: “These centers are not finalized because a very important part of that process is to hear from the community. But what these centers will be like is they will be dormitory style living with complete wrap around services from a federal contractor that will include nutrition, education, health care and activities.”

…on a recent campaign ad that claimed Jenkins was ‘under attack’: “I don’t think my campaign used the children in any kind of an appeal. I think what they were saying was factually correct. I didn’t go on blogs at every news story that was posted here in North Texas and equate this decision to help children as a reason to un-elect me in November, other people did that. This really should not be about politics. Regardless of whether you are Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, independent, Libertarian, this is about children. It’s a core American value, that’s what the Statue of Liberty is all about, we don’t turn our backs on children.”

Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.
Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.