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Can Political, Faith Groups Build On The Immigration Exchange With Obama?

Shelley Kofler
Leslie Harris of Flower Mound awaited the President's motorcade, showing her support for government assistance for detained migrant children.

President Obama and Gov. Rick Perry put aside partisan differences, at least briefly, this week to share a helicopter across Dallas and discuss securing the border. The president and the governor then sat down with a group of local officials and religious leaders who are preparing to shelter 2,000 immigrant children who've been housed in cramped detention facilities. 

Citizens who lined a street outside the meeting site near Dallas’ Love Field clutched cell phone cameras as they waited in sweltering heat to snap a picture of the president’s motorcade.

Some, like Leslie Harris of Flower Mound, also wanted to show support for Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ plan to move some detained migrant children to better equipped centers in Dallas County.  Harris carried a sign that said - Human Rights.

“I’m here because I care about the children.  I’m aghast at the reaction of some people who are yelling and screaming go home, go home.  They’re children and I think we need to take care of them,” Harris said.

Elias Cantu of Dallas agreed and hoped the private discussions were going well.  He thinks private Texans should pitch in and help when the Dallas County children’s facilities open.

“I signed up to be a volunteer so we definitely can be ready for the children when they get here,” Cantu said”  

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
North Texans await President Obama's motorcade Wednesday.

Following the meeting that lasted more than an hour, President Obama said the governor had provided “constructive” input.  Perry suggested deploying more federal border agents, and repositioning existing ones to prevent the entry of undocumented migrants. Perry also wanted the federal government to speed up the processing of migrants who’ve been detained.

“I indicated to him that what he said sounded like it made sense,” said the president.

Obama said doing a lot of what Perry proposes would be easier if Congress approves the president’s request of $3.7 billion for border security.  He told Perry he could help by urging the Texas delegation to vote yes on the funding.

“About half the resources would go to border security, enforcement, and expedited removal of people who don’t qualify for a humanitarian claim. About half would go to make sure we are treating children humanely.  We’d also make investments to tackle the root problems in Central America,” the president told media following the meeting.

Providing more humane housing for the migrant children as they await immigration hearings is the most immediate concern for Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who was among 11 Texas government officials and faith leaders who discussed immigration solutions with the President.

Jenkins said the President thanked Dallas County leaders who are assembling resources and volunteers to provide support for the transfer of several thousand children to Dallas County.

Jenkins said the group also brainstormed possible solutions.

“Mayor Rawlings threw out an idea and that is 'why don’t we take some of that money and build some orphanages and boarding schools in Mexico.'  And the head of the Baptist General Convention piped in and said, 'we can build the first one with our Baptist men.'”

Chris Liebrum, the director of disaster recovery efforts for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, hopes the meeting was the start of a working partnership among groups that don’t always get along.

“You knew there were different political views but it seemed everyone knew we had a problem with children now, but we have a problem with immigration too.”

The first test for those who met may be working together as the 2,000 migrant children are transferred to Dallas County.  Jenkins expects that to happen near the end of July.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.