Federal inspection teams Tuesday visited Dallas County’s proposed sites for housing around 2,000 immigrant children currently detained in South Texas.
Representatives from the U.S. Office for Refugee Resettlement reviewed what repair would be needed at three locations identified weeks ago.
The locations include closed schools in Dallas and Grand Prairie and a Parkland Hospital building in Dallas.
“We’re moving quickly on scoping the work, getting those buildings ready for the children. It’s important that the community be involved in the process,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.
Jenkins told a gathering of more than 100 religious and charity leaders Tuesday that his goal is still to have children in Dallas County by the end of July.
The meeting at Park Cities Baptist Church was organized as volunteers face frustration in finding ways to help the local immigrant kids housing plan.
“Our phones started ringing off the hook and e-mails coming in about people wanting to be involved in this and so we just took some initiative to get in touch with some of our partners here in town,” said R.J. Holt, Park Cities Baptist Minister of Community Transformation.
Terry Henderson with Texas Baptist Men said the charity is already providing services for the kids at South Texas locations, but the mission in Dallas County is unclear.
“There’s no guidelines of how we’re going to help and what we’ve been told, it’s going to be very difficult for volunteer agencies to help in a federal situation,” Henderson said.
The Dallas County locations will be funded by the federal government and operated by federal contractors, but Judge Jenkins said there will still be many opportunities for local volunteer support.
“The slow up on that is we haven’t known the contractor who is going to run these facilities. And once that contractor is named, then I’ll be able to negotiate with that contractor,” Jenkins said.
The work of inspection teams Tuesday was another step closer in that process.
Jenkins told the volunteers he expects toys and clothing will be needed, along with counselors and lawyers.
Catholic Charities is seeking help from Dallas-area attorneys qualified to deal with immigration issues.
Foster homes will also be needed in North Texas and across America for around 15 percent of the children.
On average, 85 percent get sent back to their birth country or placed with U.S. relatives.
Two North Texas organizations are planning to offer help soon for families seeking to qualify to foster immigrant children.
Jenkins said a Dallas community meeting will be held within the coming days to receive neighborhood reaction about the proposed housing location at Hulcy Middle School on Polk Street south of Interstate 20.
The Grand Prairie Independent School District has scheduled a community meeting Thursday evening about the proposed use of former Lamar Alternative School.
Jenkins said he has heard strong opposition for offering to bring the immigrant children to Dallas County, but he considers the criticism an opportunity to share faith.
“We value these children just like we value our own children and they’re not a burden to us,” Jenkins said.
R.J. Holt with Park Cities Baptist said volunteers are passionate despite the opposition.
“We minister to the ones that God sends our way and if these kids are going to be here and need our help, we’re going to do that,” he said.
Federal inspectors will return to the three proposed sites on Wednesday.
Judge Jenkins told NBC 5's Ray Villeda on Tuesday night that Hulcy was in the best shape to house children. A small closed-door meeting with local leaders and faith leaders from that community will further address the plan.
Neighbors have mixed reviews. Some want the children at the school and even want to help volunteer, but others see it from different view points.
"I can't imagine my child needing help and no one being there, so I'm for it on that. But I'm not for it because I do believe protesters will act crazy and stupid, and it could create more problems for our children in our neighborhood," said neighbor Cheri Belcher.