Local protests have increased in recent weeks against the expected influx of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children, part of an unprecedented surge of kids fleeing poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. As resources are stretched at the border, at Lackland Air Force base and other shelters, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has proposed, to both criticism and acclaim, that the county house some kids at Hulcy Middle School, Lamar Alternative Education Center, and a Parkland Hospital warehouse.
Not all Dallasites are taking the news well. "We are being invaded. And we cannot afford to take care of these children," said one woman at a recent protest. "For Clay Jenkins to make a decision to invite the illegal immigrants to come to Dallas is completely unacceptable," said another.
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Just how many has he invited? According to basically every media report, it's 2,000. But if some North Texans are alarmed at the idea of 2,000 kids, they should probably know: It will likely be many more.
The shelters Jenkins has proposed will have room for about 2,000 kids. But the federal Office of Refugees and Resettlement, which takes custody of non-Mexican unaccompanied minors at the border, says it reunites children with family or some other sponsor in an average of about 35 days. As long as the surge continues, there's no reason to believe that once a bed empties it won't be filled. And Jenkins has said the shelters will be under a 120-day contract that could be renewed to extend beyond a year. So while the number of beds in Dallas County would be 2,000, the number of kids who occupy could be 10 times that. Their neighbors will never know they're there; despite fears about crime and disease, the kids will basically be in a makeshift jail. But over time there will be many more than 2,000.
That's what's happened at a similar shelter at Lackland, according to Kenneth Wolfe, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman. That shelter has 1,200 beds but has already seen three times that many kids -- just in the last two months.
Once reunified with family and released from the Dallas County shelter, the kids could go anywhere. But new data shows there's a strong chance they'll wind up in Texas while they await their immigration court hearings. Since January 1, around 4,300 unaccompanied Central American kids have been released from federal custody to reunite with their parents or guardians, or have been assigned to local foster families, in Texas, more than any other state. Scores of these kids are already here in DFW, and have been here for a long time.