On Border Crisis, Governors Feel Left in the Dark
The surge of Latin American children trying to cross the U.S. border threatens to strain states’ resources and is testing their already fragile relationship with Washington, governors from both parties warned Friday.
As they gathered here for a meeting of the National Governors Association, the state leaders seethed at what they said was a lack of support and information from the federal government.
That’s left them groping for solutions to an issue they say combines humanitarian concern for vulnerable children, fears of lax border security and intense election-year politics.
“I found out in the last 48 hours that approximately 200 illegal individuals have been transported to Nebraska [by the federal government],” said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, in an interview. “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.”
As thousands of unaccompanied minors have flocked to the United States in recent months, primarily from crime-wracked countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, the Obama administration has been sheltering them in federal facilities around the country while they await processing. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol estimates that more than 52,000 have crossed the border since Oct. 1, double the rate from a year earlier.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress for nearly $4 billion to deal with the crisis, and he’s warned parents in the migrants’ countries that their children may be sent back.
Obama’s approach has fractured Democrats’ political unity on the issue.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month said the U.S. must “send a clear message [that] just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.”
But on Friday, calls for mass deportation drew a rebuke from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a potential rival to Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
“I believe it is contrary to everything we believe as a people to summarily send children back to death,” O’Malley said at a press conference here alongside other Democratic governors. He said pictures of the children in the United States, after traveling for miles along dangerous routes, look more like scenes from a “local Humane Society than a humane country.”
Meanwhile, Heineman, a fierce Obama critic, endorsed the president’s message.
“We’re going to treat any person, particularly children, humanely while they’re here,” he said. “They should humanely and expeditiously be returned to their country of origin to their family.”
He said he’d been on the phone for days with the federal Department of Health and Human Services trying to learn the identity of the children sent to Nebraska and where they’re being housed.
“So far, the secretary’s office is saying they’re not willing to provide us the names of the individuals that the federal government is transporting to my state,” he said.