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A View From The Border: McAllen Locals Debate Child Immigration Crisis

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is headed to the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday to visit a detention center where hundreds of children from Central America have been living. On Tuesday, Jenkins met with charity groups and emergency managers to talk about how to bring 2,000 or more of the immigrant kids to North Texas later this month. KERA's Doualy Xaykaothao is in McAllen, and she found out how residents see the situation. 

Interview Highlights

What are people who live near the border saying about this plan to move kids to Dallas? 

Many locals can understand why parents want a better life for their kids, but McAllen native Celia Cavazossays sending the kids across the border isn't right. And she doesn't think the kids should be moved to Dallas.

"I think that they should go back to their families. Because if they don't know anybody here, how are they going to make a life," Cavazos says. "They are so small, to make decisions, to get work, we're going to be paying for all that."

Her friend, Connie Garza, agrees. Garza is a teacher in nearby Brownsville, a city that's already host to some of the migrant children. 

"I come from parents that came from Mexico," Garza says. "And I'm proud of being a Mexican-American  citizen. And I think that people that want to make it in the United States should do it the right way, and not be a burden on the citizens; we already have problems in the United States." 

Migrant kids have been crossing the border there for years, is the situation there different today than in the past? Are we talking about a humanitarian crisis not seen in Texas before?

The mayor of McAllen, Jim Darling, doesn't seem to think so. In an editorial published for the Texas Tribune yesterday, he said as much. Darling, for example, said his city and the Rio Grande Valley are not facing an emergency or a health crisis and that there's been no increase in criminal activity.

Nevertheless, more border patrol agents have been sent here recently -- as many as 150. And about 162,000 immigrants from countries other than Mexico have reportedly entered the U.S. between October and May.

Update, 3:20 p.m. Wednesday: Government announces new immigration campaign

The Associated Press reports: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske says a new international media campaign will be aimed at slowing illegal immigration. Kerlikowske made the announcement Wednesday in South Texas while standing beside the Rio Grande in Mission. He says 226 immigrants have died crossing the border since October. 

The campaign will include hundreds of billboards and some 6,500 public service announcements for radio and television stations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. One offering has an image of a child's footprints in the desert running toward the horizon with the message in Spanish: "I thought it would be easy for my son to get papers in the USA...I was wrong."

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained since October after entering the U.S. illegally, mostly in South Texas. 

Jenkins, State Senator Royce West, and other Dallas County officials will be briefing reporters this afternoon. We'll keep you updated here -- and hear more on KERA 90.1 FM at 6:20 p.m. 

Lyndsay Knecht is assistant producer for Think. 
Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.