Dallas County continues preps for potentially housing detained immigrant children

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Tuesday unless the current zero-tolerance policy changes, its likely immigrant children could end up being housed in Dallas County.

Jenkins said he’s working with federal officials to identify possible sites that could be ready to go in a matter of weeks that would house the children currently living in limbo. Jenkins’ efforts come as the public outcry grows regarding the Trump administration's policy of separating families after illegal border crossings.

“We'll find locations, preferably places like camps and retreats where there are sports courts and grass, places to play, cafeterias,” Jenkins said.

Thomas Edison Middle School is one potential location that would be able to house some 400 kids. Jenkins said he’s also reaching out to corporations, camps and school superintendents in hopes of finding other options.

“While they don’t have their mammas and daddies right now, we can at least have people who want to volunteer to love and accept those children,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins says local non-profits and charitable partners will have access to the children -- proving them with activities and counseling.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has his reservations.

“Dallas has the highest child poverty rate in the country, so why don't we try and take care of these children first,” Price said.

But Jenkins said the plan won't cost Dallas County any money since funding will be providing by the federal government.

While Jenkins does not need approval from the commission to move forward, he does have support for at least one commissioner.

“Dallas County has a moral responsibility to help especially when human rights are being violated,” commissioner Elba Garcia said.

Attorney and activist Domingo Garcia is traveling to the border on Saturday along with ten leaders from Dallas, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as civic leaders, like Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, to tour three facilities where children are detained.

The government has only released a few images of facilities where boys are being kept.

Garcia says there are stipulations for his group: no phones, no cameras and no reporters.

“We want to see what conditions these children are in,” Garcia said. “How many are in a room? And be able to talk to these children to see what they need and how we can help.”

Catholic Charities CEO David Woodyard is working with other local nonprofits and churches to prepare for the possibility of hosting detained children.

“There isn't a direct way for us to help at the moment,” he said. “We feel certain there will be an opportunity to do that.”

Julie Morris with the nonprofit, Children at Risk, lobbies for policy change. She is also among those in Dallas working to help the children caught at the border.

“It is not okay to separate children from their parents,” she said. “This is happening. This is happening at our borders, and it's un-American. It was a policy choice, and it can be changed.

“Our greatest hope is that this is all solved in the next few days or weeks and that this all is a thing of the past,” Woodyard said.

The CEO of Catholic Charities says people have expressed interest in putting together care packages or donating items to the children. He says he's spoken with his colleagues in the Rio Grande Valley about what they need to help the families. The problem is they don't have contact with these children or know their needs.

Once viable locations are selected, the office of refugee resettlement will begin retrofitting the buildings. Then it will be up to the feds to decide if and when children should be moved to Dallas County.