Maryland stepped up its efforts Monday to recruit foster parents and solicit other assistance from the public to help with the flood of unaccompanied migrant children coming into the country from Central America.
An appeal for help was posted on the state Web site as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) met in Annapolis with a group of religious leaders for the second time in as many weeks to talk about ways to assist the federal government with the crisis.
O’Malley administration officials also indicated that they had passed along several potential temporary housing sites to the federal government and that Montgomery County was among the jurisdictions that could host a facility.
Uma Ahluwalia, the county’s health and human services director, later said state officials had identified a “state campus” in the county that could house 20 to 25 immigrant children. She provided few others details.
“The governor has made it very clear that he doesn’t want large institutional placements,” Ahluwalia said.
O’Malley has been outspoken on the question of what to do with undocumented newly arrived minors, urging the Obama administration to show compassion and resist sending the children back to dangerous situations in their home countries.
During a political stop Saturday night in Nebraska, O’Malley, who is weighing a 2016 White House bid, told a Democratic dinner audience that he believes “in American generosity and the compassion of our people.”
“We do not turn our back on innocent children who arrive at our doorstep fleeing death,” he said.
Similar comments made two weeks ago angered White House officials, who leaked word that O’Malley had opposed a proposed federal-run shelter in Carroll County, a conservative area northwest of Baltimore. The governor later explained that he thought the surrounding community would not be welcoming. His view was bolstered when anti-immigrant graffiti appeared on the site.
With some other states identifying shelter options, O’Malley has taken flak in recent days from those who have argued that his rhetoric has outpaced his actions.
O’Malley did not address the news media after Monday’s meeting, but other participants said much of the focus was on steering children into foster care while they await word on their asylum status.
O’Malley administration officials said the migrant children are being placed in federal foster care, rather than state foster care, so the state role is limited. But they said they are making a push to find Marylanders willing to participate.
On this and in other areas, “we aim to be the convener,” said Anne Sheridan, executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children.
Ahluwalia, the Montgomery official, said she expects the majority of placements of children in the county to be with families rather than in larger facilities. The application for a facility in Montgomery will be filed by a private agency, she said, not the county itself. She expects other private agencies in the District and Prince George’s County to apply to house children in advance of an Aug. 5 deadline set by the federal government.
The state Web site asks for volunteers to help the children with legal and educational services, transportation and “basic economic needs.”
Bishop Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, who was among the religious leaders who met with O’Malley, said clergy are issuing a “call to action” for help as well.
“These are innocent children,” Herz-Lane said. “They are not hardened criminals fleeing from the law.”
As part of an effort to raise awareness, Herz-Lane said an interfaith prayer vigil has been scheduled for Wednesday in Baltimore.