Officials tour HISD school as possible shelter for immigrant children

Residents concerned about undocumented children in their neighborhood

HOUSTON – As officials from three government agencies toured a vacant middle school, residents from the surrounding neighborhood showed up to express their anger.

The Houston Independent School District's Terrell Middle School is being considered as a possible temporary shelter for unaccompanied Central American children.

"I'm sorry that the parents are in poor living conditions or surroundings or whatever is going on out there, I don't care," said resident Bernadette Lancelin. "I care about what's going on right here, in my own backyard, my neighborhood."

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee tried to calm some of this anger by having a private conversation with Lancelin.

Whatever was said between the two did not last, because Lancelin later interrupted Lee's news conference with a question.

"What's going to keep them from escaping here and just moving around? Around Houston, around Trinity Gardens? What's going to keep them behind these gates? Security, really? They can't even control the border," said Lancelin.

Lee said she understands residents' concerns, but argues the law prohibits children from being detained with adults and at the current time detention centers along the border, and at military installations, are maxed out.

"They are on the floors in facilities that are not child friendly," said Lee. "They are children without their families, they are children."

Lee said no decision has been made as to whether Terrell will be used as a temporary shelter, how many children could be housed at the campus or for how long.

"They have no status, they have no ability to receive status, they will be deported," said Lee.

Lee added that deportation is a process that takes time.

"One of our responsibilities is when they are unaccompanied is that they have to be deported to something," said Lee. "I think the main concern that many of us in the federal government have is the fact that we must determine whether there's been human trafficking, rape or abuse because they are underage."

Local 2 contacted officials with Alief, Spring, Katy, Cypress-Fairbanks and Fort Bend School districts; all said they have not been contacted by the federal government and asked to help with this crisis.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the county was not contacted about the possibility of using a vacant Houston school as a temporary shelter. Emmett said that is not unusual, but acknowledge the need for a solution.

"To be blunt, you got some people grandstanding and wanting to say things pro or con, but we have a crisis and it has to be dealt with," said Emmett. "It's like any other disaster or crisis, you deal with the problem before you start worrying about pointing fingers and trying to exacerbate the problem."

About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”