Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins worked to secure potential shelter sites in North Texas for migrant children separated from families even as the future of President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy appeared to be evolving.
"All children are precious," Jenkins said at a news conference Wednesday morning held by Catholic Charities Dallas. He was among area leaders and advocates who urged the community to work to end the zero-tolerance policy.
The policy, established as a deterrent against illegal immigration, had drawn international criticism after about 2,000 children were separated from their parents. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon stopping family separation. News that Trump was considering changing the policy was met with applause.
Jenkins said Dallas County can lead in helping youngsters by providing a safe, transparent place to stay while they wait to join family members. He said he has reached out to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Trump administration with his plans. He said he also reached out to some elected officials in Tarrant County.
"Let's do all that we can for people in a difficult time," Jenkins said, explaining that Dallas County can help take some of the "chaos" out of an immigration process for unaccompanied migrant children that will continue with or without Trump's zero-tolerance policy.
Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of the non-profit Children At Risk, said the country and Texas are made of people who are pro-family — a position that means treating children with respect and dignity.
Sanborn said people seeking asylum also deserve respect. Sanborn urged people to call elected officials to take a strong stance against the policy and let friends know how they stand on families.
A push for local shelters
Jenkins said estimates indicate there are 2,000 children separated from their parents who were placed in a system with about 10,000 unaccompanied migrants — children who came to this country by themselves.
Jenkins said using local sites will shine more light on the shelters compared to the federal ones.
"Our shelters will all be licensed under state law," he told reporters at the press conference.
Jenkins said local religious, immigrant and child advocacy groups can help address the needs of children, including toxic stress that comes with experiencing trauma.
Jenkins said they are looking at four potential locations, including the Edison Middle Learning Center in Dallas.
Jenkins described Dallas as "the only place in the country saying, 'Let us help you,' rather than, 'Not, in my backyard.'"
Helping the immigrant
The press conference came as communities work to take a stand in a variety of ways, including fundraisers, prayer services and protests.
Catholic Charities Dallas is raising money to train attorneys who can offer pro bono legal services to immigrants. The organization will be available to serve migrant children who end up in Dallas County.
Catholic Charities Fort Worth is housing an undisclosed number of migrant children who were separated from their parents as part of the policy. The Fort Worth charity has a 26-bed shelter that serves unaccompanied migrant children.
On Thursday, an Interfaith Prayer Service for the Children will be held at University Christian Church, 2720 S University Dr, Fort Worth. The community-wide gathering will support children separated from families seeking asylum. The service will include speakers from various faith communities, hymns, prayers, and the lighting of 2,000 candles representing the children.
The prayer service is being organized by United Fort Worth, Tarrant Churches Together, and the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
Church communities are organizing different ways to pray or highlight the issues of asylum, migrant children and families separated by the zero tolerance policy. In Granbury, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd is holding a "Prayer for the Innocents" at 7 p.m.
The Rev. Suzi Robertson said the Episcopal Church has put the focus on migrants nationwide — a move that reflects religious teachings that Jesus embraced children and the immigrant.
"Jesus himself was an immigrant," she said.