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EL PASO — Hundreds of migrants who have recently arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border could soon be on their way to Dallas.
But Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said no Dallas private organization currently has space ready to house the migrants.
Jenkins, who convened meetings with faith-based groups and churches, including Dallas Catholic Charities, said he hopes to have space available for migrants — who have flooded border cities in recent weeks — as early as June.
The El Paso shelter is sorting out transportation issues, and Jenkins said he expects privately funded, faith-based groups in North Texas to be ready to feed and clothe migrants and provide portable showers for them as they stop temporarily in Dallas.
"Dallas and its faith groups are known for their generosity,” Jenkins said.
City leaders are also trying to help out — if they can nail down the moving targets.
“We have a compassionate city, but it’s hard to coalesce around a situation that is constantly in flux,” said Liz Cedillo-Pereira, director of the City of Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs. “Plans are moving ahead, but we are not in an operational state right now.”
The migrants are currently at the Annunciation House, the El Paso region’s nonprofit shelter.
The region, like others on the border, has been overwhelmed in recent weeks by thousands of mostly asylum-seeking Central American migrants fleeing poverty and gang violence.
An estimated 100,000 migrants were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border in April. Annunciation has received more than 700 people a day — sometimes more than 1,000.
Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House’s executive director, said Dallas “makes a lot of sense” for some migrants because many already have relatives or friends in North Texas, and because the region serves as a key hub for air and ground transportation to help migrants reunite with family members across the country.
Getting migrants to Dallas proved to be a challenge last month. Garcia said he wanted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transport them, but a federal rule prevents ICE from transporting migrants for more than eight hours.
Dallas is about two hours past the range, so it’s up to private groups to fund the transportation efforts.
With the help of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Annunciation House has already sent migrants to Denver to help relieve space in El Paso and across New Mexico.
Garcia said he is coordinating with a Santa Fe-based foundation to pay for one or two buses to Dallas each week during a four-week period.
Ruben Garcia, left, the founder and executive director of Annunciation House, an El Paso nonprofit organization that has sheltered migrants for more than 40 years, speaks alongside Taylor Levy, Accredited Representative & Legal Coordinator for Annunciation House, during a press conference in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, April 1, 2019.
Garcia said he is talking to “at least two churches” in North Texas to help coordinate the transfers, though he declined to say which churches are involved.
“This is a private effort to send one charter bus to churches willing to receive them and host them,” Garcia said. “It is not a Border Patrol, or any other U.S government agency effort. We’re not talking about anyone dumping anyone anywhere.
“We will only send a bus if there is a church willing to host them and receive them.”
David Woodyard, CEO of Dallas Catholic Charities, said that as of last week, no organization had stepped up.
But hope exists in part because some Dallas organizations have a history of helping Central Americans.
Albert Reyes, CEO and president of Buckner International, a faith-based Dallas nonprofit that provides counseling and support for families, said the group hasn’t been asked to help out with local efforts but is willing to do so.
Reyes said that Buckner International’s Center for Humanitarian Aid in Mesquite, three Family Hope Centers and Crisis Relief Ministry are ready to help.
He added that the group’s regular donors also regularly ask how they might be able to help.
“Anything that relates to children and families, our donors want to help out with and they’re expecting us to respond,” Reyes said.
Reyes said Buckner International would be able to accommodate families sent from the border and try to find space for them as long as the group has enough time to prepare.
“We’re in our 140th year of serving people when they most need help. We’re in North Texas, Mexico, Kenya, all over the world," Reyes said. "This is what we do."
Migrants from different Latin American countries sit on cots in the Casa del Refugiado, or House of the Refugee, a new center opened by Annunciation House to help with the large flow of migrants being released by the United States Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in El Paso. (PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)
Rachel Savant, along with her mother, Gwen, founded another group, called Nation Elevation. Savant, who worked in Guatemala with a humanitarian aid organization about nine years ago after she graduated from the University of Oklahoma, said she fell in love with the country and its people.
But she said the challenges facing young Guatemaltecos — or Chapines, as they’re known — has caused some of them “venture into the dangerous unknown.”
“We want the youth and families in Guatemala to continue to dream, invest and thrive in the place that they love and not abandon their lives and risk it all to only end up in a situation of inevitable heartbreak and with a family torn apart,” she said.
In Dallas, Savant said, people are “waiting to help in any way they can.”
Manuel reported from Dallas and Corchado reported from El Paso.