O’Malley hosts 50 faith leaders to discuss Md. response to child border crossings


Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Gov. Martin O’Malley gathered about 50 religious leaders in Annapolis on Monday for what aides described as a brain-storming session on how Maryland can help respond to the influx of unaccompanied children coming across the U.S. border.

Among other aims, O’Malley (D) sought input from the diverse group about possible locations to offer the federal government for temporary living quarters for the children from Central America. But the discussion also touched on other topics, including reuniting families and holding clothing drives, participants said.

“We’re trying to play as constructive a role as we can to make sure these kids are taken care of,” O’Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith told reporters outside the 90-minute, closed-door meeting at the State House.

The meeting came just days after a dust-up between O’Malley, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, and White House aides over the burgeoning crisis.

After O’Malley called on the Obama administration to take a more “humanitarian” approach to the children’s plight, the White House leaked word that the governor had argued against using a facility in Carroll County to house some of them. O’Malley later told reporters that he feared the surrounding community would not be welcoming — a viewpoint bolstered a few days later when graffiti saying “no illeagles here” appeared on the proposed shelter.

Aides said O’Malley — who did not address reporters Monday — was seeking to use his “convening authority” to bring together a group of people well versed in providing social services, often in creative and cost-effective ways. A second meeting of the religious leaders is planned next week.

“The issue is so large that no one organization alone can take care of it,” said William J. McCarthy, executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore and part of a sizable Catholic contingent that attended Monday’s meeting. Among those present was the Most Rev. Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore.

McCarthy’s organization is seeking permission from the federal government to house 50 children at St. Vincent’s Villa in Towson, which has been used as a residential facility for special-needs children and has available space.

That idea has not been universally embraced by elected officials, however. During a radio interview over the weekend, Del. A. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore County) spoke out against the proposal.

“We’ve got a problem, and I just think the last thing we need to do is to make a bad situation worse,” Kach told Baltimore’s WBAL radio (1090 AM). In a letter Kach wrote expressing his disapproval of the idea to Catholic leaders, he also said he feared the children would spread disease.

Bishop Larry Lee Thomas Sr. of the Empowering Believers Church of the Apostolic Faith in Glen Burnie said many in the group that convened Monday are motivated by “the biblical foundation of caring for children.”

He said he has been disturbed by “the hate” that has emanated from some quarters in response to the thousands of children streaming across the borders.

“We don’t want to hear that voice of hate,” Thomas said. “It’s a very strong concern.”

Elected leaders in other parts of the country — including California and Massachusetts — also have launched efforts to house and respond in other ways to the child migrants.

O’Malley made headlines a week and a half ago when he declared that returning the children to their home countries, as Obama has suggested, would send them “back to certain death.”

He stood by his comments Wednesday, after the White House leak regarding his view on the Carroll County facility.

“We are Americans, and we do not return refugee kids who find themselves on our doorstep back into war-torn or famine-racked places where they will face certain death,” O’Malley said. “I think we have to act like Americans.”

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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