DALLAS — The recent surge of unaccompanied children crossing the Texas-Mexico border is coming to Dallas as officials here prepare to open shelters for more than 2,000 minors, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced Saturday at the Texas Democratic Convention.
“I believe that every child is precious, and that regardless of your stance on immigration or the causes for this human tragedy, we cannot turn our back on the children that are already here,” Jenkins told delegates Saturday morning.
“We can’t help all, but we can help some,” he said.
Jenkins, who called the situation on the border a “humanitarian crisis” in his speech Saturday, told News 8 that two shelters are being prepared in Dallas County. He said federal authorities have been in North Texas all this past week scouting suitable locations.
“I have offered our assistance to the federal government, and we are partnering to increase capacity to move a number of these children from incarceration on our border to compassionate care in Dallas County,” Jenkins said Saturday to applause from the convention delegates.
“Any plans will be fully paid for by the federal government,” Jenkins added. “As these plans are finalized and implemented, I ask that you stand with your Democratic leaders.”
- WATCH: Judge Jenkins' announcement
He was joined on stage by U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey, as well as Texas Sen. Royce West and Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel.
After his speech, Jenkins told News 8 that no other city or county in Texas, to his knowledge, has volunteered to help house the growing number of unaccompanied immigrant children.
Jenkins said that more than 2,000 immigrant children will be brought to Dallas County by the end of July. The children will be coming from holding facilities in the McAllen area, he said. They will remain in North Texas for about 120 days, but that could be extended, he said.
The children will not be allowed to leave he facilities while they await immigration court proceedings and foster care placement, he said. Federal authorities will provide security, he said.
Jenkins said that the children will be housed in former school and hospital buildings with cafeterias that federal authorities will convert to dormitory-style lodgings.
One shelter will be in the city of Dallas, and another will probably be in another Dallas County city, Jenkins said.
Before the shelters open, officials will hold communitiy meetings in the surrounding areas. The first such meeting will be this coming week, but details are not yet available.
Jenkins told News 8 he will travel to the Rio Grande Valley this coming week to talk to Homeland Security officials about the dramatic increase in unaccompanied children.
Jenkins said he reached out to federal authorities offering to help after seeing reports of large numbers of Central American children fleeing violence and other harsh conditions. Government officials estimate that as many as 70,000 children will cross the border alone by year’s end.
Many of the children make the perilous journey from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala with paid smugglers — known as "coyotes" — through a violence-ravaged Mexico hoping to rejoin parents or other relatives already in the United States.
Along the way, many children are sold into the sex trade, authorities and shelter workers who have interviewed the refugee children report. Some simply vanish in areas controlled by violent drug cartels, who also make money by human smuggling.
“I think to myself, ‘What sort of desperate circumstances would cause Chrissy and I to make a decision to send our eight-year-old daughter to a foreign land without one of us?’” Jenkins told delegates in his speech Saturday.
“I think about the desperation that she would feel alone and scared in a foreign country without her parents,” he said. “And I think about the way we would feel with her being so far away from us. I think we would drop to our knees in prayer and we would pray for someone to help our little girl.”
This month, News 8 has traveled the state to report on the government’s attempts to house the increasing numbers of children, including a facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and a summer camp outside Waco. Other shelters have opened at military installations in Oklahoma and California, among other places.
Catholic Charities in Fort Worth has also given shelter to a number of the children.
Federal authorities have been unwilling to disclose the locations of all the camp and shelter sites, nor have they released the total number of children who are being detained.
The Obama administration plans to send its own “surge” of immigration judges and lawyers to the border to help process the children for deportation.
A child entering the U.S. alone will usually get a “notice to appear” in immigration court within days of crossing the border. But it can take years before the child will get a court date. Meanwhile, case workers place them with foster families or relatives in the U.S.
“I am surprised that our state leaders have not reached out to the federal government to offer facilities,” Jenkins said Saturday. “I hope that this will inspire them as well.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas state lawmakers agreed to give the Texas Department of Public Safety an additional $1.3 million per week to start a law enforcement "surge" in an attempt to control the flood of immigrants. Perry and others declined to say specifically how the money would be used.
"The border with Mexico is not secure," Gov. Perry told reporters during a visit to the Texas border town of Weslaco this week. "There are literally thousands of people a day coming into this country. It is unacceptable."
He added: "This isn't a Democrat problem; this isn't a Republican problem. This is an American problem."