DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Even as the White House prepares to take in potentially hundreds of children illegally crossing the border with Mexico on their own, some in Dallas County are questioning the authority to house them here. On Monday the Obama Administration said most unaccompanied children from Central America will likely fail to qualify to stay.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, has led the charge to shelter up to 2,000 of the children in Dallas County, but a Republican commissioner questions the judge’s authority to act.
“My read is, it’s political. He announced it at a Democratic state convention, two days later it shows up in a solicitation letter from his campaign to raise money,” according to Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell. “Basically what the judge has done, he has unilaterally tried to turn a federal problem into a Dallas county problem without providing any input whatsoever from the citizens of Dallas county. There‘s been nothing on the court agenda, there’s been no discussions in court, no court orders, there’s been nothing.”
Jenkins last week indicated he was working with the Obama Administration on a humanitarian crisis. “We’re the first community in this nation that has reached out to the federal government. The hand has gone the other way asking for help. And communities have either turned them down or failed to get these sort of emergency shelters outside of federally-owned military bases.”
Jenkins has claimed he doesn’t need commissioners approval; even though one of the designated shelter properties is through county-owned Parkland Hospital. That even took Parkland staff by surprise. “We have not yet received any formal indication from the federal government that they would like to use any Parkland facility. If anything changes, we will let you know,” the hospital told CBS 11 News in an e-mail.
So where does Jenkins get his authority? Is it because he is Homeland Security and Emergency Management director? Cantrell doesn’t think so. “There’s been no declared emergency at the federal, state, or county level. I don’t know where he’s getting his authority.”
Dallas attorney Clint David says Jenkins has some pro-active power as emergency preparedness director, through state Homeland Security and Emergency Management laws, or HESM. “And so although it is not directly effecting Dallas County today as with the Super Bowl and other huge events or NBA Finals where also HSEM is involved, it could. And I’m guessing from a humanitarian point of view perhaps he’s chosen to stretch that authority a bit because it doesn’t directly impact Dallas county.”
David concludes, “So it goes beyond just addressing an emergency after it happens, it’s also about preventing emergencies before they happen.”
But Cantrell argues the government and appropriate charities are already caring for the children. “The federal government has the responsibility of taking care of these kids. They’re providing food, clothing, shelter, mental and physical health care,” he said. “We need to be compassionate. And I would argue being compassionate is not to encourage them to come and make that trek; they need to be home with their families. Being compassionate is they’re being taken care of right now.“
The judge was not available Monday but his chief of staff reiterated the shelters would be run through Health and Human Services. Nothing on the agenda, but lots of public discussion is expected at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court Meeting.
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