Sen. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican, has introduced legislation requiring the federal government to notify state officials when undocumented border children are placed in their states.
His bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Deb Fischer, also of Nebraska, comes on the heels of Nebraska Watchdog's report last week that 200 unaccompanied minors — many from Central America — have been placed in Nebraska by federal agencies after entering the United States illegally.
Department of Homeland Security officials told Johanns on June 27 that the children were placed with families or sponsors in Nebraska as part of a wave of Central American children who have crossed the border and overwhelmed Texas facilities. About 52,000 unaccompanied children have been caught or turned themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol since October, double the number from the prior period, and that number is expected to rise to 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
Federal law requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to find a place for the children while they await deportation hearings. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman expressed outrage Friday after federal officials did not notify him before the children were placed in his state, and have since refused to give him information on the children, their whereabouts, and potential costs to taxpayers.
"States have a right to know the federal government is taking actions that impact their communities," Johanns said in a press release. "HHS' refusal to share with state leaders as they relocate tens of thousands of children is unacceptable."
The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that an Obama administration official said the undocumented children placed in Nebraska are being housed with relatives and sponsors, and that some are part of the recent border surge and others came earlier this year.
Fischer released a statement saying that while the United States tries to find ways to humanely address the border crisis, the lack of information from feds is frustrating leaders nationwide.
"The legislation I am supporting simply provides governors with access to information — already held by the federal government — so they can work to ensure the health and safety of our communities," she said. "I continue to believe the federal government's focus must be on safely returning these children to their home countries and finally and fully securing the southern border."
An HHS spokesman told the Journal the department is required by law to feed, shelter, and provide medical care for the children, and keep their personal information confidential.
They're also required to place them in safe settings until their immigration proceedings, and those homes are in many states, including Nebraska. Other children are placed in about 100 short-term shelters, most of them near the border with Mexico.
Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit that fights for social justice, has called for a response to the border crisis that "lives up to our fundamental values" and "recognizes the trauma these children have been through and that provides them with a meaningful opportunity to share their story and be properly screened for legal relief under the existing law."
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