HOUSTON -- As authorities checked out an old school building as a possible housing site, the head of Harris County’s government said he’s not concerned about the prospect of Central American refugee children seeking shelter here.
“You know, to be blunt, you got some people grandstanding and wanting to say things pro or con,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “But we have a crisis. And it has to be dealt with. And I think people ought to be looking for solutions of how to move forward and how to prevent it from happening in the future.”
Emmett said no one had contacted him about any specific plans to move some of the immigrant children to Harris County, but he pointed out that the federal government wouldn’t have to ask the county’s permission.
His office has fielded phone calls from voters upset about the idea of housing the immigrant children here.
“This is a humanitarian issue at the end of the day,” he said. “I mean, nobody wanted this circumstance to happen, but you’ve got to figure out what to do with it now that it’s here. And 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.”
Federal authorities have moved some of the children to shelters in Galveston and Brazoria County, but none have yet been moved into Harris County.
Houston has a reputation for serving as a refuge during humanitarian crises. In the 1970’s, the city absorbed an influx of Vietnamese citizens who sought a new life here after the collapse of the Saigon government. In 2005, Gov. Rick Perry asked county officials to open the Astrodome to evacuees fleeing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Both of those examples generated their share of controversy, just like the current child immigration crisis.
“I know that it may sound harsh, but the reality is we need to send them back home to their parents,” said State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, an outspoken critic of border policy.
An influx of immigrant children from Central America would place a burden on local health care and education resources, Riddle said. She’s convinced the immigration crisis has been created by drug cartels working with human smugglers to distract Border Patrol agents from their duties.
“You know, we’re compassionate, but our first priority must be for our own citizens, our own kids and the people in our own country,” Riddle said.