What 10 governors are saying about housing undocumented immigrant children in their states


Young detainees being escorted to an area to make phone calls as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children were  processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz., last month. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

UPDATED 2:19 p.m. to include comment from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), via Jon Ralston.

To understand the nuanced reaction from the nation’s governors to the federal government’s request for help in housing thousands of undocumented children, look no further than Maryland.

There, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) first warned last week that sending the Central American children home as Obama suggested could have tragic consequences. The administration then angrily responded, accusing him of hypocrisy for opposing its use of a building in his state to house them. That resistance, O’Malley explained, was driven by concern that they would be unwelcome, a point underscored by a weekend act of vandalism in which the phrases “no illeagles here” and “no undocumented democrats” were spray-painted on the building.

The back and forth between the White House and its reliable ally highlight the delicate response many governors have had to the administration’s request: the humanitarian crisis must be handled compassionately, they say, but not without careful consideration of a series of concerns including cost, local resistance, how the children arrived in the first place.

Here’s a brief look at how 10 governors have responded to the administration’s request for support in finding a home for the undocumented children.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D): Resources are limited.

Gov. Hickenlooper said this week that citizens are reluctant to accept the heavy load.

“Our citizens already feel burdened by all kinds of challenges. They don’t want to see another burden come into their state,” he said. “However we deal with the humanitarian aspects of this, we’ve got to do it in the most cost-effective way possible.”

A spokeswoman on Monday told local Fox affiliate KDVR that no official request for help had been made and that the comment was taken out of context—the governor was simply pointing out that limited resources are available in dealing with the problem.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D): Our facility is not equipped to handle the children.

The Malloy administration denied a federal government request to house the children at a facility in the state, citing among other things its age and deterioration.

“The vacant property that the state of Connecticut has is too small to accommodate your needs (which clearly must be at least several hundred thousand square feet of building space alone) and is typically in a state of disrepair to the point where a certificate of occupancy would be difficult to obtain,” one state official wrote to a federal official, according to the Connecticut Mirror.

The building, in Southbury, is the only large residential facility of its kind, the paper reported. A Malloy spokesman also told the outlet that “we don’t currently have the ability to meet this request. What this really speaks to is the absolute necessity for Congress to pass the president’s emergency supplemental request and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D): The state can’t, but private groups may.

Delaware has no facility large enough to house the kids, but private groups may take up the cause, Markell said this week, according to the News Journal.

“I don’t really see the possibility of any state facilities housing these kids,” Markell said. “I don’t think that exists. If private organizations choose to do so, that’ll be up to them.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R): Let’s focus on securing the border.

Iowa Gov. Branstad said early in the week that he didn’t want his state taking on the undocumented children.

“The first thing we need to do is secure the border. I do have empathy for these kids,” Branstad said, according to the Associated Press. “But I also don’t want to send the signal that [you] send your kids to America illegally. That’s not the right message.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D): Not in Carroll County.

In explaining his resistance to a federal proposal to use a building in Maryland’s Carroll County, O’Malley said he feared they would be unwelcome there.

“I suggested to them that the location still under consideration in Westminster might not be the most inviting environment for the kids,” O’Malley said, according to The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson.

The governor said the best solution may be to house the children with relatives living in the United States or place them in foster homes or temporary housing, maybe in coordination with churches.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D): We’ll look into it.

Gov. Patrick said Wednesday that he was exploring options to house children in his state, the Boston Globe reported. It’s unclear how many children the state may house, but he stressed that the federal government would pay any associated costs.

Federal officials “asked us to focus on larger-capacity places and ones that are able to be secured,” a senior Patrick administration official told the Globe. “They’ve also made pretty clear that, given the intense need to address the humanitarian crisis, they’re willing to consider different ideas.”

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R): States should not have to pay.

In a statement, Gov. Sandoval stressed that finding a solution to the crisis is up to the federal government, not the states.

“The health and safety of unaccompanied children (UAC) should be the top priority in this unfortunate situation,” Sandoval said in a statement provided to Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston, of RalstonReports.com. “That being said, the federal government should not expect states to absorb responsibility and costs of the temporary housing and caring for these children in need. It is my sincere hope the federal government works quickly to develop a comprehensive and thoughtful plan of action to address the needs of these children.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R): The administration is going about this all wrong.

Gov. Fallin sharply criticized the president and accused him of being more concerned for noncitizen children than Americans.

“Many of our public schools are already at capacity and need additional funding,” Fallin said Wednesday, according to Tulsa World. “Our health-care system is strained as it is. Now, instead of allowing us to address those needs for Oklahomans, President Obama is forcing us to add an unspecified number of illegal immigrants to our public education and public health systems.

 

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D): We’ll look into it.

Vermont’s Gov. Shumlin said Wednesday that he will explore housing at least some of the children in his state.

“We’ve let HHS know that we are willing to investigate locations and logistical requirements and work with them to determine if Vermont would be an appropriate host state for some of the children who have crossed the border and are in custody,” Shumlin’s office said in a statement, the Burlington Free Press reported Wednesday night.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R): This is a federal problem.

Walker said he has been touched by the issue and is praying for the children, but he portrays it as a federal, not a state problem.

“Obviously, this is a heartbreaking humanitarian issue,” Walker spokesperson Jocelyn Webster told the Cap Times. “However, this is a federal issue for which the federal government must find a solution.”

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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