Decision to Shelter Immigrant Kids Brings Out More Protesters on Both Sides

It's been a few weeks since Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins' startling announcement that Dallas would help shelter the influx of Central American kids. Initial reaction was, in general, positive if riddled with questions. Faith groups across the area have been busy raising funds and holding food and clothing drives for the kids' expected arrival. But as more time has passed, the reaction is getting more heated.

Today and tomorrow, conservative groups are meeting at city buildings and Mexican consulates across the country to protest the recent surge in undocumented immigrants. In Dallas, they protested downtown at Jenkins' office Friday. They were met with a group of pro-shelter and pro-immigration reform counter-protesters.

"The protesters are misinformed," said Laura Mendoza, a U.S. citizen and child of Mexican immigrants who helped organize the counter-protest. "They're saying that we don't pay taxes, but we do and we're a group of hard workers," she said. "If my parents hadn't made that sacrifice to come here, I wouldn't be a U.S. citizen. They have instilled this in me -- you go vote, and you make sure your voice is heard."

Across the street, opponents waved fence-shaped signs and American flags. One woman, who wouldn't give her name but said she is a Dallas County public health employee, said she didn't want the "illegals" coming to Dallas. "I believe the borders need to be secure. We are on our way to anarchy and social degradation due to the fact that we cannot support all these people that are coming in. And for Clay Jenkins to make a decision to invite the illegal immigrants to come to Dallas is completely unacceptable. Why do these people get to come in and take everything?"

The protest came after a tense debate at a Grand Prairie ISD public forum to discuss the proposed shelter at Lamar Alternative Educational Center. With a packed house and nearly an even representation of shelter supporters and dissenters, tempers flared there as well.

Ramzi Farah, who lives across the street from Lamar, said that despite the city's efforts to better inform residents, he is increasingly unhappy with the idea of a shelter across the street from his home.

"If you live in a prison, you're trapped from the inside. But if you put the fence in front of my house, I'm not going to feel any different than the people in there," he said. "When I wake up now, I go outside to see something peaceful and beautiful. I don't want to wake up to metal and security and guards."

Originally from Israel, Farah says the increased security in his neighborhood would be uncomfortably familiar. "I'm more sensitive than a lot of people to this because I lived it. People with machine guns walking around -- but that's not my home anymore, this is my home. I don't want to have to worry about looking at guns and fences, I want to enjoy my freedom and what my country is offering."

The rhetoric at the downtown protest today was even more highly charged, and at one point, Dallas police separated the crowds so that they chanted at each other from across the street.

"We are being invaded. And we cannot afford to take care of these children," said one protesting woman, who also wouldn't give her name, because, she said, the government would be out to get her if she did. "I would never put my kid on a journey like that, so I don't think it says a lot about their parenting. The only thing that will send a message is if we ship them all back," she said. "There's been crime for years in their country, so that's just an excuse."

Julie Ross was one of the counter-protesters across the street. She brought her two kids, ages 2 and 5, with her. She said that as a mother she can empathize with immigrant parents. "That could easily be me and my child if our circumstances were different," she said.

"I wanted my kids to be part of the voice of Dallas which says we welcome and support assistance for refugee children. It's a basic human rights issue. Women and children in any conflict are the most vulnerable, and since they are on our soil, there are certain rights that they deserve."

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Emily Mathis