Neighbors of sites to house border children concerned about protests

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by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on July 4, 2014 at 5:58 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 7 at 12:14 PM

DALLAS -- Images of irate protesters from Murrieta, California, converging on buses carrying undocumented kids and adults have dominated national newscasts.

It's something Dallas County may soon see when as many as 2,000 unaccompanied immigrant children arrive here. And it’s something that Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said officials are preparing to handle.

“There will be adequate security to make sure that the kids are safe, and to make sure that the neighborhood is safe,” he said.

On Thursday, Jenkins announced three locations - two closed schools and a warehouse owned by Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital - as the most viable sites. The judge said he expects to have some of the sites chosen within the next week. He set a goal that the children will begin arriving here as soon as the first of next month.

It’s all part of efforts to help relieve the pressure on Texas’ border, where tens of thousands of children have illegally crossed into the U.S. Many of them have come from Central American counties plagued by civil wars and gang violence.

News 8 caught up with Jenkins at University Park’s Independence Day celebration. The divide over Jenkins’ stance was on full display. Some approached, telling him how proud they were of him. Others voiced their displeasure.

“I hope that people will listen to the compassion in their hearts,” he said. “These are children and they need our help. This is not going to damage your neighborhood. It’s not going to damage your property values. It’s the right thing to do.”

Grand Prairie Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tony Shotwell isn't against bringing the kids to Dallas County, but he has major concerns about one of three sites on the list.

It’s a tiny former elementary school in a residential neighborhood his district. Shotwell said the decades-old school is in disrepair and would need major repairs.

“At one time, it was a good place for kids,” Shotwell said. “I just don’t know if it’s good place for kids 24-7, and I am positive, in my humble opinion, that it’s not a good place for teenagers 24-7.”

He said he and other city leaders feel blindsided by the process. He said the mayor found out late the night before the announcement and the mayor notified him on the morning of the announcement.

“It irritates me. I’m deeply upset,” Shotwell said. “I’m disappointed in our school administration.”

He said city leaders have sent a letter to the school board, the superintendent, and Jenkins demanding a seat at the table.

Jenkins said he contacted Grand Prairie’s mayor as soon as he knew that the school had become a viable option.

“I understand everyone wants to know things as soon as they can,” Jenkins said. “They want the process to be transparent, but this is moving pretty quickly.”

Those aren’t Shotwell’s only concerns. He worries about Murrieta-like protests.

“I think there could be a bad possibility of outside agitators on both sides of this issue, and that’s not good for the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Shotwell said.

He also worries that neighbor will be pitted against neighbor.

“Most of these people have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and know each other very well, but it’s definitely a possibility,” Shotwell said. “I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.”

Residents we spoke to Friday were divided on the issue.

“All children deserve a boost in life,” said Teresa Payne, who has lived in the Grand Prairie neighborhood for more than 45 years.

James Boyd, who lives a couple blocks down, feels sad for the kids, but wonders if it's our problem.

“We still have kids around here that need to be taken care of, too,” Boyd said.

News 8's Jobin Panicker contributed to this story

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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