The first group of immigrant children arrived in Ellis County Friday afternoon. Hundreds of kids will stay at the Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center in between Maypearl and Waxahachie.
In Maypearl, this has been the talk of the small town.
Like many of his neighbors, Bill Gallaher found out on social media that 500 Central American kids were headed to a campsite a couple of miles up the road.
The local taxidermist tried going to the sheriff’s press conference on Thursday but wasn’t allowed in. So, like other Maypearl residents, he watched for updates on the news. That’s not good enough, he says.
“Nobody has come to us and says, ‘Hey, Maypearl, we wanna have a meeting and tell you what’s going on. Nobody,” Gallaher says.
Gallaher echoes the frustrations of others here. Plans to have off-duty deputies where the kids are staying makes him feel better. Still, he’s skeptical that will be enough to keep them from leaving, if they really want to.
“I understand that they have had horrible lives, probably,” Gallaher says. “But when you’ve been through things that these boys have been through and you’re 15, 16, 17, you’re not a child anymore. They have been through some things and they’re reacting and living as adults, as men.”
The children coming to North Texas are mostly males ages 12 to 17. A few hundred are expected to go to Rockwall County, where they’ll stay at Sabine Creek Ranch.
In Ellis County, the Lakeview campsite will be run by the San-Antonio based BCFS. About 200 adults will also stay there, overseeing the kids. They’ll make sure they’re immunized, fed and kept busy with activities. Officials say they won’t attend local schools.
In Maypearl, Christmas decorations hang on electric poles and shops that line a short stretch of FM 66, the road that runs through the heart of the town.
Christmas music plays on an old-fashioned looking stereo outside the Polka Dotted Lizard shop. Inside, you’ll find Bree Carpenter styling a client’s hair. She owns Simply Beyoutiful salon, housed inside the shop.
“I know a lot of … concerns is ‘why did they bring them so far into the borders if it’s just a 21-day temporary thing.’ It’s a tough situation,” Carpenter says. “I see both sides of the story and I see people’s concerns, but I’m a compassionate, caring person and all I could do is trust and show love and protect my family.”
Down the street, inside Maypearl’s Hay and Feed store, Gene McAskill shakes her head when she reads and hears some of the comments about the immigrant children.
She gets that a lot of people are angry. Even so, she says, “It’s sad, it’s kids. I mean if it was grown … people, but they’re little kids.”