Dallas County has revealed plans to temporarily shelter 2,000 children who illegally crossed over the U.S.-Mexican border over the past several months.
Since the beginning of the year, nearly 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed over the border, many of whom enter through the Rio Grande valley in southwestern Texas. About three-quarters of the children are from gang-infested countries in Central America, including El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Many of the children are fleeing the country under the false notion that once they enter the United States they can stay. When they come across the border, many turn themselves in to border authorities, where they are detained for approximately three days before being handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“There are false rumors that if you can get to the United States, maybe you can stay,” White House official Cecilia Muñoz told “PBS NewsHour” in June. “Those are false, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that people in those countries understand that there are no provisions in the law to provide for these children to stay, that the border is not open for children.”
But the children continue to arrive, triggering a humanitarian crisis in Texas and Arizona. Facilities run by the federal government are quickly running out of space for the thousands of migrants, and they have been proactively looking for other facilities to temporarily accommodate them.
Earlier this year, the government approached the town of Lawrenceville, Va., with plans to temporarily house 500 children in an abandoned college building. Those plans were put on hold after many of the town’s 1,400 residents balked at the plan.
“Locate them in D.C., where you can keep a very close eye on their welfare rather than putting them in our backyard,” one unidentified resident said to cheers at a Lawrenceville town hall meeting.
In the California town of Murietta, hundreds blocked three buses in a mass anti-immigration protest that was encouraged by the city’s mayor. Those buses were filled with migrant children and their families who were transitioning from Texas to Border Patrol facilities in the state.
“Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities,” the town’s mayor Alan Long said at a press conference last week.
But Dallas County officials see things a different way. On Thursday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced three locations — two in Dallas, one in nearby Grand Prairie — that were tentatively identified to house the children.
“I hope as we deal with the community and we move forward that this is about compassion to children. Here in North Texas, we don’t turn our back on children,” Jenkins said at a press conference on Thursday.
Jenkins said the county is the first to proactively approach federal officials with a plan to help house some of the thousands of children currently under the government’s watch. Jenkins says he was motivated not by politics, but by faith.
“If this is a political move, then I am the stupidest politician in Texas,” Jenkins said. “Part of the reason for making this decision was by faith, and it wasn’t just faith in God, it’s faith in the people standing behind me, and it’s faith in our community.”
When it comes to immigration reform, faith is something President Barack Obama is running low on. In a heated press conference on Tuesday, Obama announced he would take a series of executive actions after congressional Republicans failed to address the problem for more than a year.
“I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue and Congress chooses to do nothing,” Obama said. “In this situation, the failure of the House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our economy.”
The briefing was held shortly after Speaker John Boehner announced he would not bring an immigration reform bill to the House floor “for the remainder of this year.” Shortly after Obama’s statement, Boehner slammed the president for going at it alone.
“It is sad and disappointing that, faced with this challenge, President Obama won’t work with us,” Boehner said.
Democrats say Boehner is out of excuses.
“His failure of leadership is enormous,” Senate Majority Leaker Harry Reid said of Boehner. “Our broken immigration system is one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation and Speaker Boehner knows that addressing it is the right thing to do, yet the tea party spooked him into cowering in a corner.”
While politicians play politics, the fate of thousands of children remains in flux. A small percentage may remain in the United States if they can prove hardship in their originating country, but the overwhelming majority will eventually be sent back home.