Investigating Washington: Is the government sharing enough information about 'unaccompanied alien children' with the public?
WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Hundreds of demonstrators marched outside the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency on Thursday, demanding Congressional action on immigration reform. Many were arrested.
This comes as some states continue to struggle with what to do with the influx of unaccompanied children coming across the border.
The government has abruptly shut down operations at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and two other military bases that sheltered more than 7,700 minors the government refers to as “unaccompanied alien children.”
Thousands have been transferred to 150 shelters around the country, mostly group homes run by nonprofits. But try to find out exactly where and the government won’t answer—not the public or reporters, not even members of Congress.
Dan Stein heads up the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes illegal immigration.
“It’s outrageous,” Stein said, when asked if he thought the government has a right to keep the location of the minors secret. “Now, this administration is telling the American people—and Congress—that we’re not even entitled to know where these people are, where they’re being held, what communities are going to be impacted.”
ABC 7 News compiled a list of more than 100 shelters around the country said to be housing the children, places like Boys Town in Cutler Bay, Fla.; Brazoria County Youth Home in Freeport, Texas; and Ridge View Youth Center in Watkins, Colo.
Dozens more shelters are in the works. That doesn’t count the more than 37,000 minors already released to family members or sponsors. The most impacted states are Texas, with more than 5,000; New York, California and Florida have about 4,000 apiece; and there are more than 2,800 each in Maryland and Virginia.
Critics say the government is improperly keeping details secret to avoid negative publicity and protests.
Nonprofit BCFS cited “negative backlash” as the reason it walked away form a reported plan to convert a Texas hotel into housing with $50 million tax dollars. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) questioned the cost, which he said worked out to $166,000 a year per child.
ABC 7 News’ questions to the Department of Health and Human Services went unanswered. The department’s website says, “We cannot release information about individual children that could compromise the child’s location or identity.”
Stein agrees personal information should be protected, but not locations of groups.
“Clearly, a member of Congress can’t do his or her job in representing constituents, unless that person knows where people are being taken, and where they’re gonna be held, and where they’re gonna be released,” he said.
Wherever the children end up in the United States, they’re entitled to community health and social services, as well as public education at local schools already struggling with stretched budgets.