THE EXTRAORDINARY surge of unaccompanied immigrant children at the Southwest border has eased somewhat, at least for now, thanks partly to the hot summer weather. But federal, state and local government agencies continue to struggle to accommodate the undocumented children already in the country, and the thousands who continue to cross the border each month.
The federal government has dropped its efforts to find large emergency shelters to handle the surge, but in the last year it has funded an additional 40 permanent shelters (to augment 100 or so existing ones) to provide short-term housing and care for underage immigrants, many of them fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. More such shelters are expected to come online in the fall.
Those shelters tend to be small — 50 or fewer beds — but they are important. They serve as way stations for children, who typically spend a few weeks in them before they are placed in homes with relatives or other sponsors. Community reaction toward new shelters, actual or proposed, is a barometer of public sentiment toward the underage immigrants; so is local reaction to the challenge that large numbers of new immigrant youth may pose for local school systems.
The fact that tens of thousands of these children have been absorbed around the country in the last year with relatively little local opposition is obscured by well publicized incidents in a handful of places. One such place was Carroll County, Md., northwest of Baltimore, where in July someone scrawled “No illeagals here” on a former Army Reserve building that federal officials briefly considered for use as an emergency shelter for immigrant children. Federal officials stood down after Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) of Maryland told the White House he considered heavily white, Republican Carroll County a poor venue for such a facility.
Mr. O’Malley came under fire for that move from the White House (and from editorial pages, including this one). To his credit, he directed the state to seek other possible venues for shelters, and non-governmental organizations to run them.
Two have now emerged. One is a 50-bed facility at a Baltimore County site run by Catholic Charities of Baltimore. The other is a 24-bed facility at a Montgomery County complex for troubled youth near Rockville; that would be run by the National Center for Children and Families, founded in the District.
Both organizations have applied for federal funding for the facilities from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services, to whom the immigrant children are handed over after they’re apprehended by the Border Patrol. Both say they have the support of state officials, who would have to license any new shelter. That marks important progress in Maryland, where almost 3,000 children have been placed with relatives and other sponsors since the beginning of the year — on a per capita basis, more than any other state.
The larger question is how to stem the tide of underage immigrants from Central America crossing the Southwestern border. Congress can and should take steps to do that; so far it has failed to do so. In the meantime, with so many unaccompanied children having landed in places where they will live and go to school until their cases are adjudicated in immigration courts, states and localities have a moral responsibility to provide them with shelter and services.