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Groups Scramble As Dallas County Plans To Welcome 2,000 Immigrant Children

Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Judge
Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Judge

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ announcement Saturday to temporarily house as many as 2,000 children who've entered the country illegally surprised many people. Now, some local groups are preparing to meet with Jenkins to find out how they'll be helping.

  Jenkins said Monday that he couldn’t yet reveal which facilities in Dallas County will act as temporary shelters for the children who’ve been detained at the border. Federal officials are still looking at them.

“People are working really hard to get this done,” Jenkins said. “It’s just I don’t know how fast we’re going to be moving.”

For now, meetings with various organizations and local officials are being scheduled this week. On Tuesday, Jenkins will meet with groups like the Red Cross,Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and Texas Baptist Men. On Wednesday, he plans to travel to McAllen to visit a shelter. And, if North Texas local shelters have been selected by Thursday, he’ll meet with local officials in the neighborhoods where they're located.

“It’s important for people to understand that what we are doing is opening facilities where federal contractors will provide complete services at federal expense,” Jenkins said.

He said residents shouldn’t worry about local costs.

“These children are not going to go to DISD or Parkland for health care,” he said. “They’re going to get all those services on site.”

A spokesman for the Dallas Independent School District said the district has been talking with Jenkins and federal agencies about offering up closed school buildings to handle the wave of children who are coming to the U.S. Jenkins said meetings for the public to give its input on the plan will most likely take place next week. He described the effort as a chance for people to step up and do something they’re good at.

Vanna Slaughter, director of Catholic Charities’ immigration and legal services, said she was surprised by Jenkins’ announcement over the weekend. She learned about it from media reports. She says it’s the right thing to do.

“I’ve been in a lot of border patrol processing facilities and they are not child friendly,” Slaughter said. “They’re very sterile and inappropriate places to be processing these kids, so I’m very heartened that officials here in the city of Dallas, in my hometown, are stepping up to do this and I hope that other cities and jurisdictions will follow the lead.”

The kids coming in won’t be the first to go through this process in North Texas. Since January, about 1,000 children have been released to relatives in this area, Slaughter said. Those children will appear in Dallas’ immigration court. Catholic Charities has provided legal help for these children and their guardians for the past four years. Demand has surged in the last few months.

“Since the numbers have escalated so much, our entire programing is shifting tremendously because of there are going to be so many more needs,” she said. “These children in particular who have arrived recently are going to have so many needs in the community that we’ll have to help them with.”

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.