DALLAS (AP) — Charitable organizations, social services and local lawyers in North Texas are feeling the effects of the onslaught of Central American children arriving at the Mexico border hundreds of miles away.
In Fort Worth, 200 unaccompanied minors have already received aid and the local Catholic Charities plans to double its shelter capacity for children ages 13 or younger, while helping other agencies establish future shelters.
Meanwhile, Dallas charities are scrambling to recruit and train volunteer lawyers willing to help children navigate the immigration court system.
Thousands of youngsters fleeing violence and abuse in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have arrived in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S., overwhelming federal immigration agencies. More than 174,000 people, mostly from Central America, have been arrested in Texas' Rio Grande Valley this year.
The spike prompted the U.S. Homeland Security Department earlier this year to start sending families to other parts of Texas and Arizona for processing before releasing them at local bus stops.
"Our nation is facing a humanitarian crisis," Heather Reynolds, president/CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth, said at a Friday news conference, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "We are called to step up."
The newspaper said most of the children in Fort Worth have been reunited with relatives, while three youngsters were placed in foster care, according to Reynolds, who said her organization is ready to help other agencies and is working with Catholic Charities USA and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to set up future shelters.
The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday that Catholic Charities' leaders from Oklahoma came to Dallas last week to learn how they could help children with legal services. Military barracks at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, began filling with children a week ago and is one of three bases now housing juveniles, in addition to the shelters.
More than 50 people recently attended legal training at the headquarters of the Dallas Bar Association sponsored by Catholic Charities and the nonprofit Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, the newspaper reported.
Catholic Charities attorney Jaime Treviño said he hoped to end "a drought" in the number of lawyers who sign up to do free legal work with juveniles.
As the number of unaccompanied child migrants has escalated in the past two years, Catholic Charities of Dallas has trained nearly 100 lawyers for pro-bono work. The staff started screening more juveniles this year and assisting parents hunting for their children, the Morning News reported.
The newspaper said Dallas started a separate juvenile docket as numbers of children and teens increased. This month, all of the nation's 59 immigration courts have been asked to establish juvenile courts.
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