By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
On July 1, Catholic Charities of Dallas joined a number of churches, government officials and non-profit organizations in a discussion on how to respond to the influx of undocumented minors across the Texas border.
The one hour closed-door meeting was organized by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and was held at the American Red Cross in Dallas. The meeting included representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as members of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters, or VOAD.
“We met and discussed volunteer opportunities, ways for them to integrate into this plan so that we can bring some sense of normalcy and compassionate care to these children that are currently being held on our border,” said Jenkins, who has recently called for Dallas County to house up to 2,000 children who have crossed the Texas/Mexico border illegally. “What we asked them to do is consider the information that has been laid out by Health and Human Services, my presentation and the give and take in the hour we spent together and come up with some ideas that they can send back through my office; ways that volunteers – individuals and agencies – can be involved in this process. It’s a great opportunity for our community to show compassion and to show what Dallas County can do.”
It has been reported that most of the children originate from Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Jenkins said his office has a few locations in mind on where the county could house some of the children, but finalizing those locations will take time.
“It’s a four step vet process and none of them are at step three yet,” Jenkins said.
At the moment, Catholic Charities of Dallas is exploring ways it can help, including the possibility of providing legal assistance to the minors that arrive in North Texas.
“Once the Dallas shelter is established, the children will have a range of needs,” said Rosalynn Vasquez, spokesperson for Catholic Charities of Dallas. “The unique role that Catholic Charities of Dallas is positioned to play and has the expertise to deliver is that of conducting legal assessments for the children. Since each child will eventually be required to appear in Immigration Court, we will strive to conduct legal assessments for as many children as is feasibly possible. For those children who have viable immigration remedies, we will alert our legal counterparts in whatever city or town they reunify with family members in.”
Vasquez also said once the children arrive, Catholic Charities will begin providing legal services for them immediately until the conclusion of their immigration case.
Nikki Beneke, who is the Dallas County Vice President of VOAD, said organizations like Catholic Charities are trying to help any way they can.
“It’s an opportunity for our community to come together to assist these children to have a better life and be children again,” Beneke said. “We want them to be healthy. We want them to be fed. We want them to have a normal hygiene. We want them to have everything they would normally have. We just want them to have a wonderful life while HHS is trying to do some placement for them for their families.”
On Wednesday, Jenkins is scheduled to visit a shelter in McAllen that is currently being used as a holding place for some of the undocumented minors.
This year alone, more than 50,000 children from Central America have been apprehended crossing into the United States. Those arrested have been processed and have been housed in various detention facilities in Texas and across the Southwest.