Migrant children: All 50 states are housing them, but not to the same degree

HHS revealed on Thursday the number of unaccompanied migrant children being housed in each state. Some public officials want them, while others want to send them back.

Handout via Reuters
A dormitory used to house children who illegally crossed the border from Central and South America without adults is seen in a picture released by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) taken at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, June 2, 2014. Nearly 1,000 of the minors at a time are being sheltered at the facility built about 50 years ago to house new recruits for basic training.

From coast to coast, state and local politicians have been weighing in on whether their communities should play host to any of the 50,000-plus unaccompanied minors who have flooded across the US-Mexico border since October. Many are for it, citing humanitarian need, while others, often focusing on the potential financial burden, are vehemently opposed.

Among the politicians falling into the first category is Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who has offered to house in the Bay State up to 1,000 children who can't be reunited with their parents or relatives. Mayors across the country, from Los Angeles; to Des Moines, Iowa; to Syracuse, N.Y., have put forth similar proposals.

Six Republican governors – from Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Utah – are leading the opposing charge. They wrote a letter to President Obama this week, expressing concern that the minors will overburden “public schools, social services and health systems.”

Until recently, these concerns have been hypothetical to some degree, as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is charged with taking custody of and providing care for unaccompanied migrant children from countries not bordering the United States, hadn’t disclosed where the children had been sent. But that changed Thursday, when HHS revealed the states where 30,040 unaccompanied children have been placed in the care of personal guardians.

According to the report, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands are hosting these children, most of whom are placed with a parent, relative, or family friend. The top five recipients of unaccompanied minors are:

  • Texas: 4,280
  • New York: 3,347
  • Florida: 3,181
  • California: 3,150
  • Virginia: 2,234

In Texas, sentiment against playing host to the minors runs fairly deep. After a Dallas County judge designated a warehouse, a middle school, and an alternative education building as temporary housing for the unaccompanied minors on July 3, he faced harsh criticism from residents, who say the plan will overtax native Texans. Rep. Michael McCaul (R) of Texas, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that the state’s military bases – where the Department of Homeland Security had been temporarily housing the children – were being turned into “refugee camps.”

New York, coming in second in the list, finds itself near the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to sentiment about accepting the children. In Syracuse, Mayor Stephanie Miner (D) wrote a letter on July 17 to Mr. Obama, offering her city as a place of refuge for the immigrants.

“As a city with a rich immigrant tradition we feel strongly that these children should be welcomed and protected,” Mayor Miner wrote. “Toward that end, Syracuse would welcome the opportunity to provide shelter while the larger global issues causing them to leave home for such an arduous journey are resolved.”

In New York City, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D), citing Miner’s offer, has expressed similar views, urging the city to take steps to house some of the unaccompanied minors.

Rounding out the Top 10 states for placement of immigrant minors by HHS are Maryland with 2,205 children, New Jersey with 1,504, North Carolina with 1,191, Georgia with 1,154, and Louisiana with 1,071.

The bottom five recipients of unaccompanied minors are:

  • Montana: 1
  • Vermont: 3
  • North Dakota: 4
  • Alaska: 5
  • Wyoming: 6

Some of the states lodging the fewest unaccompanied minors also have some of the most vocal public officials when it comes to opposing the housing of the migrants.

In Idaho, which is tied for six from the bottom with Maine and Hawaii at eight children, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other federal officials this week, saying that his state would not be a “staging area or a destination for the crisis the federal government has created.”

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) said on Wednesday that the state cannot afford to house the children – a comment parodied by comedian Stephen Colbert.

"Out of the 52,000 children in federal custody, Uncle Sam is unfairly saddling Maine with a whopping eight of them," Mr. Colbert said.

 This report includes material from The Associated Press.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.