Dallas County Judge Says He's Gotten 'Green Light' To House Migrant Children | KERA News

Dallas County Judge Says He's Gotten 'Green Light' To House Migrant Children

Jun 18, 2018

This story was updated at 6 p.m. CST Tuesday.

Dallas County has gotten the "green light" from federal officials to potentially house immigrant children separated from their parents who entered the country illegally, County Judge Clay Jenkins says.

County officials will offer a list of possible shelters to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Federal authorities would visit the sites and select ones deemed suitable.

"What we need right now is a relief valve from tent cities and dark Walmart buildings into a place where people, like the people of Dallas, can come in and provide these services,” Jenkins told KERA on Tuesday.

Jenkins says Dallas volunteers could provide compassion as well as sports and arts activities. He says the shelters could also provide physical and mental health care that all kids need, especially when separated from their parents. 

"These kids are in toxic stress, whether you’re an unaccompanied minor, whether you’ve been separated from your parent," he said. "And the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us this causes not short-term, but irreparable harm."

On Monday, Jenkins said camps, retreats and centers with dorms, dining halls and space to play are ideal. He said locations would be leased by the federal government and private sector offers are encouraged.

“Functioning school facilities like [Dallas Independent School District] offered today are good too," Jenkins said in a tweet. "What ya got North Texas? Let’s step up 4 kids!”

Immigrant children are being separated from their parents and detained under the Trump administration’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy. At least 2,000 children have been separated from their parents under the policy since April.

The policy has ignited widespread protests, including one at Dallas City Hall. At the Thursday rally, Jenkins said Dallas could do a better job than the government is doing at the border.

“These are children made in the image of God,” Jenkins said Friday. “We don’t have to agree on politics to agree on that. They need our help. The hearts of the people of Dallas County and North Texas are big, as is our capacity. If the feds will allow us, we will step up for kids.”

Dallas County offered to house up to 2,000 unaccompanied immigrant children in 2014, but the plan ultimately didn't happen.

Currently, a network of about 100 migrant youth shelters are now 95 percent full, NPR reported. A tent city at Tornillo Port of Entry near El Paso was created to house immigrant kids. Others are being held at Casa Padre, a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas.

The Trump administration continues to defend the policy, but there are some legislative efforts in Congress that could amend it. 

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz introduced emergency legislation Monday to keep families together, "absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to children."

House Republicans are reworking their immigration bill to include a provision that modifies the policy to allow children to be held in the same place as their parents if they are detained.

A vote on the bill and another stricter proposal are both scheduled for a vote on Thursday.