The U.S Department of Health and Human Services says the Dallas-Fort Worth area is one of the potential new sites of a shelter for migrant children seeking asylum in the U.S.
HHS says it is in the early stages of exploring new sites in North Texas, San Antonio and Houston. It is also considering locations in Phoenix and Atlanta.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says he received a letter from HHS last week.
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"They've said they’re looking and we've said we're happy to help in any way they would like. We’re keeping those lines of communication open," said Jenkins.
Undocumented children 17 and younger who aren't accompanied by a parent or guardian are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which points to an increase in referrals of unaccompanied minor children.
As of March 30th of the 2019 fiscal year, the ORR says it took referrals of approximately 32,000 unaccompanied minors – a nearly 50 percent increase over the prior year.
HHS says it's anticipating the surge will continue.
"I think it's been a crisis level since 2014 when we had a really large group of children," said Felix Villalobos, Managing Attorney for the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services or RAICES.
"These children are fleeing issues in their home country that have not dissipated and they continue to come because they don’t have any other choice," added Villalobos. "These children are coming and they need some kind of assistance."
Pio del Castillo, a marketing professional who volunteered for Catholic Charities at the Texas-Mexico border last July, said he saw the need first-hand.
"The situation there was a dire situation," said Castillo. "There were many, many families – many mothers who came to us not thinking when they would see their sons or daughters again."
Castillo described working 12 to 16 hour days to help connect asylum seekers with family members in the U.S. and make travel arrangements for them to resettle while their cases are pending in immigration court.
"Regardless of your political point of view, these are the people who need our help and that’s all I could see," said Castillo.
"If we have the kids here in the metroplex closer to the people who want to help, I think you’d see a lot more help come to bear," said Jenkins.
Jenkins said HHS has a list of potential sites, vacant buildings that could be modified into shelter space, but it hasn't disclosed specific locations. Some sites Dallas County previously identified in 2014 as potential shelter locations are no longer available, said Jenkins.
It's also not clear how much bed space HHS hopes to find or how many children may be moved to North Texas, if a shelter is opened.
If a shelter is located in North Texas, Jenkins said local budgets would not be impacted and the federal government would foot the bill.
HHS has not confirmed when it hopes to open new shelter space or when it would make a final decision on a site.
"This may not come about to be anything in Dallas County. It may be they look and they say we want to do something different," Jenkins said.