Hundreds of immigrant kids transported far north of the border

Hundreds of immigrant children have been taken north of the US-Mexico border to stay with relatives or in temporary government or charitable facilities. Governors there say they’ve been kept in the dark.

Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman/AP
Marta Beltran, 19, of El Salvador, holds her 18-month-old son, Lenny, as they ride a shuttle bus to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Shelter in McAllen, Texas.

The focus of the political, legal, and social fight over thousands of immigration children streaming north from Central America has been along the US-Mexico border.

Hastily prepared detention facilities there are filling up. Protesters on both sides of the immigration debate face off. Legal authorities try to sort through complicated cases involving family members on both sides of the border as well the many very young children in a kind of limbo.

But government agencies and private organizations far to the north are involved as well, according to reports from governors and other concerned officials.

Fox News reported Sunday that 748 unaccompanied minors have been transferred from areas near the border to the Chicago area.

Of the original group of 748 kids, 319 have been placed with family members or sponsors while they await an immigration hearing, according to Fox. The other 429 have been placed in facilities run by the Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit organization that receives grants from the US Department of Health and Human Services

Sen. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois complains that state officials don’t have enough information about the situation. “These detention facilities should be completely open to the press and to the American people so that we know how what conditions are, we should be able to talk to the kids who are there,” he told Fox.

Nebraska faces a similar situation.

“I found out in the last 48 hours that approximately 200 illegal individuals have been transported to Nebraska [by the federal government],” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) told Politico, “The federal government is complicit in a secret operation to transfer illegal individuals to my state and they won’t tell us who they are.”

At Fort Sill in Oklahoma, 1,100 immigrant children are being housed.

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) tells Politico that there’s been no guidance about how long the children will be housed, whether they’re entitled to any taxpayer-funded benefits, from education to Medicaid to foster care. And she’s unsure whether they might be “let loose in the United States” once they turn 18.

“Those are all the questions and concerns that governors like myself,” she said. “They are children so we want to treat them very humanely, but we also have a lot of concerns.”

Some of those concerns break down along partisan lines.

Republican governors and lawmakers emphasize border security and potential problems in dealing with an estimated 52,000 immigrants who have come to the US so far this year – double last year’s rate, according to US Customs and Border Protection – which they blame on the Obama administration.

Democrats place the blame on the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives, which has refused to take up bipartisan immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate. They’re also more inclined to emphasize what they see as a humanitarian crisis involving refugees from a part of the world that has grown increasingly violent.

"We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) told reporters Friday at a National Governors Association meeting in Nashville. "It is contrary to everything we stand for as a people to try to summarily send children back to death … in a place where drug gangs are the greatest threat to stability, rule of law and democratic institutions in this hemisphere.”

Meanwhile, the immigration debate continued Sunday on the TV news programs.

“We are faced with an extraordinary situation where thousands of people, young people especially, are fleeing Central American for economic reasons, to get away from endemic violence in their countries,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Can you see where the critics are coming from when you see buses of people being brought inland after they come here illegally?” Mr. Holder was asked.

“Let me just say this: Our immigration laws are broken,” he replied. “It’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.”

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said that to “staunch this flow, you do not have to have a change in law.” He says President Obama should order more National Guard troops along the border.

“They need to be right on the river,” Gov. Perry said. “They need to be there as a show of force because that’s the message that gets sent back very quickly back to Central America.”

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