As many as 2,000 unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the Texas-Mexico border without their parents in recent months could soon be headed to shelters in Dallas County, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Jenkins made the announcement at the Texas Democratic Convention on Saturday.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied refugee children, most from Central America, have been apprehended entering the U.S. illegally since October. Jenkins said about 2,000 of those children can come to Dallas County by the end of July if current plans work out.
“I support increased security at the border, but increased security at the border doesn’t take care of the security of the children that are here now,” he said.
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Jenkins said he’s currently looking at three different locations, each that could hold as many as 1,000 children. He’s looking for schools that are no longer in use, hospitals and other large buildings.
“The initial contracts will be 120-day contracts. They could be extended, but before any site is chosen, we’ll have community meetings, we’ll discuss it with the community, we’ll lay out to the community a town hall with exactly what will be happening there,” he said.
Jenkins said discussions to help house the minors began last Friday when he met with several White House officials who were in Dallas for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Dallas County will partner directly with the federal government," Jenkins said. "We will identify facilities and we will work to open those facilities to them at 100 percent federal expense so that we can provide compassionate care and complete wrap services, that’s education, medicine, psychological, etc. to the children who are scared and alone on our border."
Jenkins said the move to provide shelter to the children, who are staying in holding facilities, was neither a political issue nor an attempt to enter an immigration debate.
“Children deserve to be taken care of compassionately and they’re here now and we have to take care of them in this country so we want to do in Dallas County what we can do to help the federal government with that responsibility,” he said.
Jenkins said he even shared his plans with his 8-year-old daughter.
“She said, ‘But Daddy these aren’t people, they’re children,’ and she asked when I told them that we’re going to move them here, she asked, ‘How many are going to be at our house, and can I have little girls?’” Jenkins said he answered no but said they could visit them and play with them when they come.
Jenkins said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings supports the plans and urged others in the community to play a role in welcoming these children.
“I’d love to see a group like the Baptist men come in and feed these children once or twice a week foods that they’re used to eating at home,” he said. “I’d love to see us have religious services for the children there at these facilities, I’d love to see partners like AT&T step up and provide some communication possibilities.”
Jenkins said many of the children have family members in the United States and while they’re house in North Texas there will be attempts to reunite them with their loved ones.
“The federal government will be making efforts to find a family member who can be responsible for taking the child and getting the child back for the child’s hearings and responsibilities on their immigration status,” he said. “Those family members are likely to be all over this country. It’s not likely that those family members will live any more in Dallas County than all over this country.”