WESTMINSTER, Md. — As news spread this weekend that undocumented immigrant children might soon live in a former military facility in this town, graffiti appeared on the one-story brick building: “No illeagles here. No undocumented Democrats.”
Aside from the misspelling — which prompted some snickering about sick birds of prey as a photo circulated on Facebook on Sunday — the scrawled message was a manifestation of the bitter national debate over how the government should treat these undocumented children.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children have arrived on the southwest border since October. Under current law, those children must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. They are then placed with relatives living in the United States or put in temporary housing while their cases are processed through the immigration court system — which can take years.
The White House earlier this month requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to deal with the crisis. And HHS officials have been looking for places to house the children while the government decides what to do.
A contender: Westminster’s former Army Reserve facility, a pair of brick buildings on a few acres of land near Route 140. County leaders learned of the possibility on Thursday evening, and the reaction in this heavily Republican town northwest of Baltimore was swift and negative.
Del. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) asked if the undocumented children would have “undergone the proper health evaluations or background screenings.” Carroll Commissioner Richard Rothschild told the Baltimore Sun that his county “will not become a repository for Obama’s failed immigration policies.”
By Monday, HHS had deemed the location “not a viable option at this time,” an agency spokesman said.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), whose congressional district includes a slice of Carroll County, but not Westminster — had threatened to use his position on the House Appropriations Committee to block some funding to HHS if it used the military building. Harris’s office was notified over the weekend that the location would not be used.
“This is the right decision,” Harris said in a statement on his Facebook page on Saturday.”I’m glad to see that HHS listened to my objections and those of so many local officials.”