by Melanie Batly
As the federal government seeks to provide temporary shelter for the tens of thousands of illegal Central American children that have flooded over the southern United States border, local communities are pushing back.
According to The Wall Street Journal, administration officials are trying to work with governors to open temporary housing facilities, and subsequently identify and place the children with family sponsors until deportation cases are processed, a requirement of the current law.
“Governors and mayors have the right to know when the federal government is transporting a large group of individuals, in this case illegal immigrants, into your state,” Nebraska GOP Gov. Dave Heineman, told the Journal.
He said he is concerned federal officials are refusing to give details about whether there are plans to send children to public schools or expound on the potential costs to taxpayers.
Beyond vociferous opposition among communities closest to the border, protest has fanned out across the country. In Escondido, California, the planning commission denied a permit to convert a former nursing home into a youth shelter after residents protested, according to the Journal. In Murrieta, California, protesters blocked buses carrying migrants.
A proposal to place immigrant children in Greece, N.Y., was also axed after residents protested, as was a plan by the Department of Health and Human Services to put undocumented children at a former Army Reserve facility near Westminster, Maryland.
At the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend, governors raised concerns over the cost of housing children in their states, according to the Journal. And a few communities that have not even been approached for relocations have taken preemptive steps to block it, passing ordinances banning newly arrived immigrants from being placed in their towns.
Residents in Richmond, Virginia, were among the earliest to protest the opening of a shelter to relocate children.
To date, the government has opened three temporary facilities at military bases in Texas, Oklahoma, and California to house 3,000 children. HHS already had roughly 100 shelters that were able to house 6,600 children, the Journal reported, and is hopeful to find more with the permission of governors.
But over 52,000 unaccompanied children have arrived since October, and officials say they are preparing for as many as 90,000 by the autumn, putting the government in an urgent position to find a solution for placements.
While local opposition to shelter proposals has put the government in a quandary, Democrats have consistently focused on the importance of meeting America’s humanitarian obligations and are looking for ways to tackle the crisis.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, said his state doesn’t have a suitable place to accommodate an HHS shelter but would be willing to work with faith-based groups to find suitable housing.
“If you send these kids back, it’s an incredible problem for them and, depending on what happens to them, something that will always be on our conscience,” he told the Journal.
A 2008 federal law that aimed to protect children from human trafficking requires that the federal government place minor migrants with sponsors in the United States while they await court deportation hearings, though Mexican and Canadian illegal immigrants are deported immediately.
The president has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funds, $1.8 billion of which would be designated to open and run shelters, and has signaled he is willing to overturn the current law to facilitate swift deportations.