O’Malley smeared by White House, said Md. should house its share of young migrants

Columnist

Shame on the Obama administration for unfairly accusing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley of hypocrisy over immigration.

O’Malley (D) deserves applause and support, not misleading White House leaks, for urging Americans to provide decent temporary housing for the tens of thousands of young migrants who have fled violence and poverty in Central America.

Robert McCartney is The Post’s senior regional correspondent, covering politics and policy in the greater Washington, D.C area. View Archive

The governor still has to deliver, of course. He needs to follow through on his stated desire for Maryland to do its part by placing hundreds of the youths in foster care or other accommodations in the state.

But indications are that O’Malley is genuinely committed to doing the right thing. His humanitarian appeal has contrasted starkly with Obama’s emphasis on speeding up deportations of the youths, even at risk of trampling their legal rights to asylum.

O’Malley was smeared by an anonymously sourced CNN report last week that clearly originated in the White House. It noted that O’Malley had resisted placing youths in a vacant military facility in Westminster, northwest of Baltimore.

The implication was clear: O’Malley talks big but won’t deliver if his own back yard is affected.

It was a bum rap.

O’Malley had good reasons for opposing the Westminster site. He has been actively exploring how Maryland could pull its weight to help the migrants elsewhere.

The governor even has offered a number for how many youths he’s prepared to shelter. O’Malley told Maryland religious leaders at a private meeting in Annapolis on Monday that if the United States ultimately has to house 100,000 youths, Maryland should be willing to care for 1,880 of them, according to participants.

An O’Malley aide wouldn’t say how the governor arrived at that figure, but it is proportional to Maryland’s fraction of the total U.S. population. The aide also said the number could be less than 1,880 because Maryland and other states would be responsible only for migrants whom federal facilities couldn’t handle.

O’Malley isn’t saying all the children necessarily would remain permanently in the United States. He just wants to be sure they aren’t railroaded out of the country before they’ve had a proper chance to apply for legal asylum.

Many of the youths have suffered from violence, persecution or other wrongdoing at the hands of Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan gangs that could qualify them for protection under U.S. laws.

“These children who have fled this violence are entitled to due process,” O’Malley said in the remarks that infuriated the White House. “I believe it’s against everything we stand for as a people to try to summarily send children back to death.”

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Barnes (D-Md.), who has advised O’Malley on immigration issues, said the White House had to know that O’Malley was ready to step up.

“He had already been talking to me and others, asking, ‘How do we help here?’ ” said Barnes, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. “It’s impossible that they got the impression he was saying Maryland wouldn’t help.”

O’Malley didn’t want youths placed in the Westminster center partly because the building is located in anti-illegal-immigrant Carroll County, which last year formally made English its official language.

In addition, O’Malley agrees with many experts that it’s undesirable to house the young migrants in large, barracks-like facilities.

Instead, he would place them with family members, if possible, or in foster care.

O’Malley called the meeting Monday with a diverse group of 50 faith leaders to seek their support in aiding migrant children. The response was enthusiastic.

“The president might seem to say . . . we should send all these youngsters back, [but] the common theme [at the meeting] was, ‘No, that’s not right,’ ” said Monsignor John J. Enzler, chief executive of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

“This is not a time to be debating borders and who should be here,” Enzler said. “You have children who need to be taken care of.”

He and other leaders said they were ready to recruit families to be foster parents or provide other services for the youths.

“Let’s not expect that all the burden should be on Texas, Arizona and New Mexico,” said the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Episcopal bishop of Maryland.

If O’Malley and Maryland ultimately balk at contributing as promised, then the accusation of hypocrisy will be justified. So far, however, the governor gets credit for taking a principled stand.

I discuss local issues Friday at 8:50 a.m. on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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