FEW GOVERNORS have spoken with more passion and eloquent conviction than Maryland’s Martin O’Malley (D) about the plight of tens of thousands of underage, unaccompanied and undocumented Central American immigrants who have crossed the southwestern border in recent months. His actions tell a different story.
Using soaring rhetoric and appealing to the nation’s compassion, Mr. O’Malley has called on Americans to do their utmost to “alleviate [this] humanitarian crisis,” lest the minors be sent “back to a certain death” in their home countries. At the same time, the governor protested when federal officials proposed renovating an empty Army Reserve warehouse northwest of Baltimore so that undocumented children and teens could be housed there before being sent to live with relatives and other sponsors.
The governor’s stated position is that the facility’s location — in heavily white, conservative Carroll County — would be inhospitable. An aide to Mr. O’Malley said the immigrants would be “traumatized” by the hostility of the locals — as if, having survived gang warfare in Honduras, the trek through Mexico, predatory coyotes and the scorching Rio Grande Valley, the youths would succumb to dyspeptic Republicans during a 30-day stay in Carroll County.
Under criticism from the White House for his evident hypocrisy, the governor’s grandstanding attained new heights. He said the proper place for the immigrant kids is with relatives or foster families, not a temporary facility.
It’s a phony choice. The truth is, the federal government has managed to place all but a handful of the children in private homes, usually with relatives, while they await adjudication of their immigration status. But while those relatives are located and vetted, the kids must first be housed, usually for a month or so, at a shelter — precisely the sort of shelter Mr. O’Malley spurned in Carroll County.
Mr. O’Malley says his administration has been working with federal officials to identify alternatives to the Carroll County building. However, local officials we contacted in Maryland’s two biggest and most diverse localities, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, say they have had no e-mails, phone calls or inquiries from the governor, his aides or any state agency attempting to find suitable facilities.
Mr. O’Malley has directed state officials to publish a “statement of need ” soliciting suggestions from groups that could care for the unaccompanied children under contract with the federal government. The deadline is Aug. 25.
Nationwide, about 100 facilities provide bed and board for thousands of immigrant kids as they await placement in private homes; many have done so for years. Of those thousands of beds, fewer than 50 are in Maryland, according to federal officials.
It’s time for Mr. O’Malley to quit posturing and act. He should start by picking up the phone and asking key local officials to help locate a temporary shelter. Leading advocates for Hispanic immigrants, such as Gustavo Torres, director of Casa de Maryland, say sites in Montgomery or Prince George’s would be preferable. But, said Mr. Torres, “You need to make a decision as a policy-maker, period, regardless of where the location is.”
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