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'A Humanitarian Crisis:' Dallas County Makes Plans To Shelter 2,000 Immigrant Children

Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Texas Tribune
Hundreds of minors are currently housed at the Hackney Training Complex at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. Texas has seen a dramatic increase in minors crossing across the U.S. border.

Community meetings could begin by the end of the week to discuss the thousands of immigrant children who will soon be cared for in Dallas County.

On Saturday, at the Democratic state convention, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced plans to open facilities that will house at least 2,000 of the 52,000 children who’ve entered the country illegally in recent months.

Jenkins says plans to transfer some of the immigrant children to Dallas County began a little over a week ago. Local religious leaders returned from the Rio Grande Valley where they visited cramped holding centers with children eating in rooms with open toilets. 

“They’re scared,” Jenkins said. “They’re not able to be inoculated in these facilities. They can’t get the sort of complete care they need. So we need to do what we can to help those children get over this traumatic event and provide them some compassionate care.”

The unaccompanied children are among the estimated 70,000 who will cross illegally into the United States this year.  Many are fleeing violence and drug cartels in Central America and are brought here by paid smugglers.

Three shelters planned for Dallas County

Jenkins says federal officials have been scouting for three locations in Dallas County that could each shelter up to 1,000 children.  They’re looking at empty hospitals and schools with space for dormitory style housing. 

Jenkins says the federal government will pick up the costs that include housing, medical, counseling and education needs. He’s hoping local groups will also contribute.

“I’d love to see a group like the Baptist Men come in and feed these children once or twice a week foods they’re used to eating at home," Jenkins said. "I’d love to see us have religious services at the facilities. I’d love to see partners like AT&T provide some communications and televisions to watch soccer and cartoons on.”

'A humanitarian crisis'

North Texas Democrats expressed qualified support for Jenkins’ plan.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis.  And we need to do as a community what is morally right,” said State Sen. Royce West, who believes holding community meetings to develop public support is crucial.  West also wants to make sure the children aren’t all housed in the same part of the county.

“We need to make sure these are not all in one neighborhood. And we need to make sure, No. 1, that we put a cap on the number of individuals we are going to be taking in,” West said.

Dallas businessman David Alameel, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, wants to ensure the children’s stay is temporary.

“We should make sure they’re OK. But then those who have families here-that’s one thing.  Everybody else needs to be sent back to their family and sent back to their government and tell them: 'this is your responsibility, not ours,'” Alameel said.

'Not trying to get into the immigration debate'

Jenkins expects some resistance but wants to avoid partisan politics.

“We’re not trying to get into the immigration debate.  I support the surge at the border.  We’re trying to help the children who are here.”

He says the children to remain in North Texas for about four months while immigration officials contact family members and consider where they’ll stay long term.  

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.