The federal government and the city of Dallas have agreed to house nearly 3,000 unaccompanied migrant children, detained at the border at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center to ease overcrowding at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Local and federal officials have conducted "walk-throughs" at the convention center the past couple days, according to the city.
The convention center in downtown Dallas will soon house migrant boys, ages 15-17 for up to 90 days, according to a memo to city council members.
“These are unaccompanied minors,” immigration attorney Fernando Dubove said. “Usually, they came in from Central America. They were taken into custody of the Department of Homeland Security.”
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Dubove said he has been to similar shelters where Central American minors seeking asylum in the U.S. wait for family or foster care.
“The game plan is to move them on to family,” he said. “The delay comes in running the proper background checks.”
Dubove said family members who want to care for the immigrant children must undergo DNA testing as well as background checks to ensure the child would be safe in their care.
The group of boys coming to Dallas crossed into the U.S. along the Rio Grande Valley area, according to the city memo.
A surge of undocumented migrants says they continue to flee violence and poverty in their home countries.
Some migrants have awaited asylum proceedings for over a year in Mexico, as was the order by then-President Donald Trump.
“There’s probably a backlog,” Dubove said. “A lot of these kids would’ve been processed much sooner but for President Trump’s prior restrictions.”
Many newcomers are victims of human smugglers who encourage them to pay to cross the border illegally and claim asylum with the false assertion that the border is open.
“Immigrants reading too much into a new presidency and thinking that President Biden and a friendly administration that a lot of doors remain open that are not going to get opened right away,” Dubove said. “The administration has been very straightforward about, 'Do not come. This is not the time.' But folks are desperate.”
Officials from FEMA first approached the city on Friday to request to lease an exhibit hall at the convention center for a "decompression center."
The request by the federal government came as a welcomed surprise for city council members like Adam Bazaldua.
“It’s really refreshing and inspiring to see governments at different levels finally working together again,” he said. “What’s been going on at the border for years has been inhumane and is no place for children, so if the city of Dallas can play a role in whatever the federal government sees as a solution, I’m very happy that we can be a part of it.”
Bazaldua said if the length of time FEMA needed the convention center for exceeded 90 days, the issue would be presented to Dallas City Council.
Bazaldua said COVID-19 protocols would be in place, although details as to what that would look like in the exhibit hall were made clear Monday.
The cost and responsibility to provide education, medical care, food and security will fall on FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the city.
The understaffed Dallas Police Department met with officials on Monday afternoon but insisted its role would be minimal.
“You start thinking, 'Oh, they’re just taking advantage of us. They’re taking advantage of a new system and it just reaffirms all that ‘build the wall’ that we heard for four years,' Dubove said. "The flip side of that is, these are children and it wasn’t an easy decision for a mother or a father to send some of these kids to the United States. That family was desperate for that child’s safety.”
"The Biden administration’s reckless open border policies have created a humanitarian crisis for unaccompanied minors coming across the border," Abbott said. "Texas is putting President Biden on notice that his policies are risking the health and safety of Texans."
Despite confirmation of the plans from the city of Dallas, the U.S. DHHS said it had not made a decision as to where it will shelter the teenagers at this time.