Federal data shows that 360 unaccompanied refugee children from Central America who were caught at the U.S. border have been released to adult sponsors in Ohio this year.
Data published Thursday from the Office of Refugee Resettlement — part of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families — does not say where in Ohio those children have been placed, however.
The country is battling a surge in the number of unaccompanied children who have been fleeing violence in Central America and crossing into the United States because they believe they will be allowed to stay.
The federal agency says it makes sure children are vaccinated and “medically screened” before releasing them to adult sponsors, who receive criminal background checks.
It’s not immediately clear which countries the unaccompanied children come from, but given the range of dates for the government’s data, it’s likely many were part of the refugee wave fleeing Central America for the Mexico-U.S. border in recent months.
Legitimate claim to remain?
More than 30,000 unaccompanied children have been placed nationwide to adult sponsors in every state, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands between Jan. 1 and July 7. Children are placed in government shelters and then released to sponsors while they go through deportation proceedings. The sponsors often are relatives or family friends.
If sponsors cannot be found for children, then they may go before an immigration judge and request a voluntary departure or a judge may order the child to be deported, according to the federal agency.
Texas (4,280), New York (3,347), Florida (3,181) and California (3,150) have received the most unaccompanied children. Among Ohio’s neighbors, Michigan has 92 children placed with sponsors, Indiana has 245 and Kentucky 237.
Most adult sponsors are related to the refugee children, and these days, many of the children are coming from Central America through Mexico, said Christopher Pogue, a Cincinnati immigration attorney.
“That’s who these sponsors tend to be, some degree of family member who happens to be here,” Pogue said.
However, “very few” of these children will have a legitimate claim to remain in the U.S., such as fleeing drug gangs or forced prostitution, he added. They may be trafficked to the U.S.-Mexico border through “coyote networks” or they’re being used as drug mules, Pogue said.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS, said most unaccompanied children are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. He did not identify the Ohio cities where the children are being placed.
The spike of refugees the United States is seeing today is a blend of propaganda being spread by “coyotes” and a desire to on the part of some children to reunite with relatives, Pogue said. The smugglers are telling families their children will be able to stay in the U.S.
“We can’t summarily deport them the way we can (with immigrants) from contiguous nations,” such as Canada and Mexico, Pogue said.
Impact on U.S. cities
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley got a lot attention last week with comments about welcoming migrant children to the city. She said if the children, whom she describes as refugees, need to be distributed across the nation, Dayton would certainly do its part and provide a safe landing spot.
“Of course we would consider being helpful to the country, because we’re an immigrant-friendly community,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said Whaley’s comments were “completely out of line.” Federal officials have not released information outlining what they need from U.S. cities and states to house the children.
On Tuesday, the governors of Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to create “a plan to deal with this crisis in a humanitarian and practical way.”
The six Republican governors noted their concerns about reports that nearly half of the “undocumented children … fail to show up for their assigned immigration proceeding. We are concerned that there will be significant numbers who will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states.
“…We are concerned that the failure to return the unaccompanied children will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern boarder.”
The Washington Post reported that few of the nation’s governors have offered assistance to temporarily shelter the unaccompanied children. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has not released a statement on the state’s position.
According to Pew Research Center data released this week, there has been a 117 percent rise in unaccompanied children ages 12 and younger being apprehended at or near the border, and a 12 percent increase among teenagers, from fiscal years 2013 to 2-14.
But by far, most of the people apprehended are teenagers. In fiscal 2013, 91 percent of those caught were teens while in fiscal 2014, up until May 1, 84 percent were teens, according to Pew.
The biggest country of origin was Honduras, with 13,244 minors traveling or being sent to the U.S. in fiscal 2014, Pew said.