Dallas County wants to house up to 2,000 of the Central American children detained after crossing the South Texas border, County Judge Clay Jenkins said Saturday.
Jenkins told the state Democratic Party convention that Dallas and other counties should step up and help house children while they await transfer to relatives or agencies before their court hearings — or transfer back to their home countries.
“We can’t help them all, but we can help some,” Jenkins said. County and federal officials are trying to identify former schools, hospitals or churches with facilities to house children at federal expense, he said.
Jenkins said state Sen. Royce West is working to help find facilities and coordinate with authorities. The children would have teachers and activities at the site and would not be enrolled in outside schools, Jenkins said.
“Instead of the agents at the border doing child care, we can handle that here and free them up to do their work,” Jenkins said.
“This creates jobs. It doesn’t burden the schools. And no local tax dollars will be used.”
Jenkins said that the first temporary housing facility is being prepared and that officials are working with federal authorities to find two more by late July. One is in Dallas, and the other is elsewhere in the county, he said.
A surge of immigrant families has overwhelmed federal authorities, who are urging families in Central America not to send their children to cross illegally into the U.S.
Immigration politics aside, Jenkins said, Dallas County wants to help children who are “scared and trapped in not-good conditions on the border.”
Federal officials were not immediately available for comment.
Fort Worth shelters
Some children from the border were already coming to Fort Worth, where Catholic Charities is doubling its shelter space to help with the humanitarian crisis. The organization had space for 16 children and is increasing that to 32.
Before 2012, the government typically served 7,000 to 8,000 such children annually, according to the federal Administration for Children and Families.
In 2011-12, the number increased to 13,625. During fiscal 2013, the government worked on 24,668 cases. The projection for this fiscal year: 60,000.
In Fort Worth, about 100 youngsters received temporary shelter through Catholic Charities from June 2013 to this February. North Texas Catholic, a Catholic publication, recently reported that the number had increased to 198.
The federal government operates about 100 short-term shelters, including the one in Fort Worth. But because of the influx, additional temporary shelters have been set up in numerous locations, including Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme in California and Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Both the state and federal governments have launched surges of law enforcement personnel and equipment along the Texas-Mexico border.
Several lawmakers — including Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth — have called for an emergency session of the Legislature to respond to the crisis.
Before adjourning Saturday, delegates to the Democratic convention approved a resolution addressing the crisis.
It notes the increase in people entering the U.S., particularly unaccompanied children, and recognizes Davis’ request for a special session so lawmakers can find ways to help.
“Texas resources alone cannot solve the humanitarian crisis,” the resolution said. “The Texas Democratic Party calls on the federal and state government to work with other countries’ governments to tackle the root cause of this humanitarian crisis: weak governments, entrenched poverty, and the [rise in] violent organized crime across Central America.”
The resolution called for “the further release of federal and state emergency funding to support and reimburse local communities for the costs they [incur] in meeting the demands of the humanitarian crisis.”
Staff writers Anna M. Tinsley and Diane Smith contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.