Dallas County is moving forward with plans to bring some of the children in the current border crisis to North Texas.
On Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins met with faith leaders and organized a volunteer plan so people will know how they can help. Additionally, both the American Immigration Lawyer Association and the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association put out urgent pleas for help from lawyers for the children who will arrive in North Texas.
Attorney Monica Lira says an email sent out Monday with an urgent call for help has prompted large number of lawyers to offer their services free -- and not just immigration lawyers.
“Real estate attorneys, family law attorneys, you know, somebody who’s never done immigration law in their life who have volunteered to take on some of these cases and help these children out,” said Lira.
Lira says over the next two weeks, classes will be offered to lawyers who want to help but are not up to speed on immigration law.
Lira was among a group of people who joined Jenkins on Sunday, walking the neighborhood around one of the proposed shelter sites at an alternative education building in Grand Prairie, answering questions and trying to allay concerns about the coming flood of children.
"They're being treated like criminals and they're not,’ said Lira.
Catholic Charities of Fort Worth held an informational on Monday that attracted several dozen people -- among them were those eager to help.
Victoria McArthur and her daughter, Maria Pohlman attended the meeting. They’re thinking of becoming a first-time foster family after being moved by images of kids in overwhelmed border facilities. “My grandfather was a Russian orphan on the orphan train and somebody had to adopt him and help him, so I thought we could at least try to do our part and help,” said McArthur.
Catholic Charities of Fort Worth is already helping with the border crisis and recently doubled its shelter capacity to 32 beds.
"I think the biggest problem that we have right now is that our immigration laws are antiquated,” said George Rodriguez with American Immigration Lawyers Association.
He says immigration reform is greatly needed, but the border surge is a humanitarian crisis, driven by violence in Central America -- not an immigration problem.
"If we were looking at another country outside the United States, we would consider them to be refugees,” said Rodriguez. "…We've seen through our own practice some of these kids are coming up and what they’re telling us is they've got great fear of the gang violence; of being recruited into gangs. And when you’re getting recruited into a gang, there’s no choice. I mean, they’re there. They’re threatening their lives; they’re threatening their family; they’re threatening their parents’ livelihood. So the only choice that these parents have is to get these kids out of the country.”
The feds are still vetting possible shelter sites in Dallas County. Jenkins says the county will have 2,000 beds with new kids filtering in as others place out.
The initial shelter contract is 120 days.
But Commissioner Mike Cantrell foresees more like 10,000 kids moving through Dallas County and worries the shelters will become permanent fixtures.
“When the government comes in and spends that kind of investment to bring that property up, and they have the volume on the border that they have, there's no way those facilities are going to be closed,” said Cantrell. “They’re going to open up more and then they are going to browbeat people into keeping those open.”
“The goal is to stand up these temporary facilities so the federal government can work on a multilateral approach to end this crisis,” said Jenkins. “Part of that approach is to build long-term permanent facilities, not here in Dallas County, to house these children.”
President Obama is going to Austin on Wednesday, but not the border towns.
He also has a stop in Dallas on Thursday for a fundraising event.
Jenkins would not say if he has plans to try to meet with the president.
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