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Dallas Latino Leaders Mobilize Forces for Border Kids

Image: US-POLITICS-IMMIGRATION-OBAMA

File photo of President Barack Obama and Texas Governor Rick Perry as he sits for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014 to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. JEWEL SAMAD / AFP - Getty Images

DALLAS -- Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia is not surprised by the outpouring of support from North Texas residents for the increasing numbers of migrant children and families now in the state. Garcia is glad, since she and other leaders are calling for more help, especially bilingual volunteers.

Garcia was one of the city officials who met with President Obama and Governor Perry as part of a round-table discussion on the humanitarian crisis in Texas. She has been fielding calls left and right from would-be volunteers as policy leaders around Dallas prepare to take in a number of these migrants.

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“One of the things I’ve been proud [about] is how many people want to help.” She cited the Latino community in North Texas in particular as coming out in “large numbers.” But for Garcia, as well as many other city leaders, the crisis over the border has been a situation they have been anticipating. According to Garcia, charities and many refugee groups have been working with migrant children for quite some time.

But now as the number of children within the state has escalated, the need for even more volunteers has accelerated as well.

Organizations like LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association have been instrumental in assisting Garcia as the city prepares shelters for 2,000 children.

Rene Martinez, who heads the District 3 chapter of LULAC utilized social media to identify some of the younger members who could lend their time. Currently Martinez has recruited “close to 200 bilingual volunteers” within just a few days. “The response has been incredible,” said Martinez.

Martinez was particularly aware about the need for bilingual volunteers after working with the city of Dallas in 2005 when victims from Hurricane Katrina were bused in. He recalled being surprised at the lack of bilingual staff from organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

One group at the forefront of helping the unaccompanied minors is the Catholic Charities of Dallas. Vanna Slaughter has been their Director of Immigration and Legal Services for 28 years. For the past four years, assisting migrant children has been a major platform for the organization.

“This is a crisis right now, but it’s been going on – every single year the number [of children] gets greater and greater,” said Slaughter.

"This is a crisis right now, but it's been going on - every single year the number [of children] gets greater and greater."

Like Martinez, Slaughter and the Catholic Charities of Dallas have been busy finding bilingual volunteers. In the month of June 450 children were released to families in North Texas and currently await their day in immigration court.

Ideally, Catholic Charities of Dallas is able to do a legal assessment with every adult who has one of these children released to them. Going forward they either become represented internally or an attorney can work pro bono on their behalf.

The Dallas Hispanic Bar Association is currently holding webinars and seminars as part of their Unaccompanied Minors Action Community. Once the detention centers become available in Dallas, on-site screening will likely take place for the volunteers.

A Latino legal group is holding webinars and charity groups are recruiting bilingual volunteers as part of the effort.

As North Texas waits on the logistics of where the shelters will be located, many city leaders still point to the vast array of volunteer opportunities. As people come to Slaughter’s organization eager to help, she finds the response “heartwarming.” One of her favorite projects came from a clerical volunteer who began making “smile bags” for each of the children. Inside were new gender-neutral items (which had been donated) for the children to have as their own.