More than half the nation’s governors have weighed in with mixed emotion on the brewing crisis over unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant children, most of them from Central America.
Few of the governors have offered assistance to the Obama administration as it seeks temporary shelter for the children. Most have voiced a litany of concerns over: the health and safety of the children, the security of the nation’s border, the strain such undocumented children have on state resources and being kept in the dark on the transport and housing of undocumented immigrants within their states.
On Tuesday, the White House hosted a call between the nation’s governors and top officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Customs and Border Protection, and representatives from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Association and the Department of Defense. Early data show that the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border was nearly halved from June to July, the officials said. They also asked the governors to continue working with the federal government to care for the children and said the crisis is a reminder of the need for Congress to pass comprehensive reform.
The crisis has put state and local officials on treacherous ground, with many conveying compassion for the children, insistence they be sent home and frustration with the administration, often virtually in the same breath.
The Republican governors of Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday noting their concern that a failure to return the children “will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border,” endangering more children on that treacherous journey. They also complained of the administration’s admission that it does not investigate whether the sponsors or relatives with whom such children are placed are themselves legal residents.
“This raises real questions as to whether these children will maintain appropriate contacts with our legal system and will follow necessary procedures designed to protect both them and the American public,” they wrote.
At least three other Republican governors have also written critical letters to the administration on the issue:
- In a harshly worded letter to President Obama, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) on Friday attributed the number of children at the border to what he described as “administration’s lax immigration policies” and blamed those policies for encouraging dangerous trips across the border in which immigrant children face “serious threat of violence and abuse at the hands of human traffickers.” He then vowed to do all he could to prevent the federal government from housing undocumented immigrants within his state’s borders.
- Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Florida Gov. Rick Scott complained in separate letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell of the lack of formal notification to communities when undocumented immigrants are placed there with sponsors or relatives, asking for more information on those placements.
While most governors have so far complained about the administration’s handling of the situation, a handful of Democratic governors have offered varying degrees of help. Most notable was Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who, in an emotional speech last week, said his state had proposed two locations to temporarily house children as they are processed and was waiting on the federal government to evaluate the sites.
“I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions — and our inactions. My faith teaches that “if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him,” but rather “love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” he said on Friday, his voice cracking.
Vermont is similarly exploring options at the request of the federal government, likely in the form of a boarding school or college dormitory, said Susan Allen, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Peter Shumlin (D).
“That’s not what they’re looking for but we want to be helpful if we possibly can,” she added. “The governor has said that this is just a heartbreaking situation for these children.”
The Democratic governors of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland have each encouraged help on a smaller-scale. Colorado hasn’t yet been approached to help, a spokeswoman said, but Denver has announced that it was exploring options. “If Denver or other communities in Colorado want to offer their support and sponsorship while these children are in the legal system, the state respects and would defend that decision,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.
In response to a federal request for a temporary shelter, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) similarly said his state had nothing that would fulfill the government’s needs, but added that he’s open to working with other organizations to help the undocumented children. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy denied a request to use a facility that he says is in disrepair, but said state agencies are willing to help place children with sponsors or relatives. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has suggested using foster homes or churches to provide temporary shelter.
Here’s a look at what other governors have said on the issue:
Following Tuesday’s White House call, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) criticized the administration for its handling of the placement of the children.
“During the call, it was confirmed what I have long suspected – the Obama administration has specifically chosen to avoid its due diligence and is releasing Unaccompanied Alien Children into the care and custody of so-called ‘sponsors’ — individuals about whom the administration does not check immigration or deportation status,” she said in a statement.
“As a Governor, it’s beyond frustrating that, once again, this administration deliberately neglects its duty to act in a responsible manner and uphold the law. But as a mother, it’s unconscionable that federal officials willingly release children into the permanent custody of people of which little – if anything – is known.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) described the crisis as “a human tragedy,” telling an American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles “we’ve got kids whose throats are being slashed in El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala,” according to the Fresno Bee.
Gov. Terry Branstad (R) has said he does not want to host immigrant children in his state. “The first thing we need to do is secure the border. I do have empathy for these kids,” Branstad said. “But I also don’t want to send the signal that [you] send your kids to America illegally. That’s not the right message.”
“We need to make sure those kids are safe and cared for until we can get them back home,” Gov. Steven L. Beshear (D) said, according to the local NBC affiliate. “I think they should go home as soon as can reasonably be done.”
Following Tuesday’s White House call, Gov. Paul LePage (R) complained that eight children were placed in his state without his knowledge.
“Maine people are generous,” he said in a statement. “Many of us who can afford to give a little do so through our churches or charities to help the less fortunate. … But it is wrong for the federal government to force a higher burden on the people of Maine to pay for those who come to our country illegally, especially when the government secretly places illegal aliens in our state without our knowledge.”
Gov. Mark Dayton (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) has said relatively little, but he has nonetheless offered some comment on the issue. “This thing is unfolding rapidly, and the federal response is still being determined,” he told the Star Tribune on Monday. “I would have to know where it’d fit in, what it would cost and where we would have sites potentially available.”
In a statement provided to Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston, of RalstonReports.com, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) last week said that finding a solution to the crisis is up to the federal government.
“The health and safety of unaccompanied children (UAC) should be the top priority in this unfortunate situation,” Sandoval said in a statement provided “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.”
A spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) last week told New Hampshire Public Radio that she has not received a formal request for help from the federal government, but would share it with the public if she did.
“I have great empathy for that situation,” Gov. Chris Christie (R) told reporters last week. “We’ll take every request that comes based on its merits and make those decisions,” he said, calling Americans an “empathetic people.” “We don’t like to see people suffer,” he said. He had evaded the question when asked previously.
After a weekend tour of a detention facility, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) praised medical staff for caring for immigrants housed there, but added “this is no place for young mothers and babies. One is just 11 months old” She called for comprehensive reform from Washington to stop the influx of immigrants. “This is a 100 percent federal issue,” Martinez said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) has told The Oregonian that the governor’s office has not been involved in any resettlement efforts yet, according to a Tuesday article.
Gov. Mary Fallin (R) criticized President Obama last week 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.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) said on Friday that his administration is looking into potential sites to offer temporary shelter even though the state had yet to be contacted by the federal government.
In a letter last week to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Gov. Nikki R. Haley (R) voiced her concern about what she called the “failure of the federal government” to secure the border. She also thanked him for telling her that the federal government has not and has no plans to house undocumented children in her state.
Gov. Rick Perry (R) is at the heart of the Southwest border crisis and warned Obama in a May 2012 letter that “there is a surge of unaccompanied illegal minors entering the United States. Apart from being part of an obvious humanitarian crisis, these unaccompanied illegal minors have left the federal government scrambling to triage the results of its failed border security and immigration policies.”
In response to reports that a Washington military base may be used as temporary shelter, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee (D) simply told local reporters that his office is in contact with federal officials and closely monitoring the “urgent humanitarian situation.”
The state has no plans to provide temporary shelter to the children, according to a Tuesday Charleston Gazette report.
“We do not anticipate having anyone housed here,” a spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) said. “We have not been ordered to, and, frankly, West Virginia is a small state and doesn’t have the facilities.”