Amid reports that scores of child migrants have been placed this year with sponsors in Utah, officials are wondering if the Beehive State and other locales will be tapped to house unaccompanied youngsters in temporary shelters to ease the crush at the border.
As federal officials seek more of these shelters, they are not saying exactly where they are considering locating such housing — including whether some children could be sent to Utah.
"Facilities will be announced when they are identified as viable options," said Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs for the Administration for Children & Families division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Facilities are being identified by the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. General Services Administration as potential locations to increase the medical care and temporary sheltering capacity" for the unaccompanied children, he said. "Organizations, communities and states have offered to help with this humanitarian response," and offers are being evaluated. "While only a few facilities will ultimately be selected, a wide range of facilities are being identified and evaluated to determine if they may feasibly provide temporary shelter space for children."
Allyse Robertson, spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said his office has had no discussions with Washington about housing children here, but he had some general discussions about the plight of the youngsters with federal officials in recent meetings of the National Governors Association.
Herbert is one of six Republican governors who joined in a letter earlier this week criticizing President Barack Obama’s handling of the border crisis.
They worried the continuing flood could hurt states, which they warned could be on the hook to educate and provide other services to the children once they are placed with relatives.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported this week that more than 30,000 unaccompanied child migrants have been released to sponsors this year, some to each state in the union. It reported that 67 had been released to sponsors in Utah from Jan. 1 through July 7.
Until family members are identified who can take custody, the Administration for Children & Families assumes responsibility to handle the kids after initial processing by immigration officials. It has opened three temporary shelters beyond the 100 regular shelters it operates, mostly near the border with Mexico.
Those three temporary shelters are at military bases in San Antonio, Texas; Port Hueneme, Calif.; and Fort Sill, Okla.
The agency notes that in average years, 7,000 to 8,000 unaccompanied children are detained. That jumped in fiscal 2012 to 13,625. In fiscal 2013, it skyrocketed to 24,668. This year, 60,000 unaccompanied children are expected.
The agency said most are boys and mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. It says many come to escape violence in their home countries, to find family members already here, to seek work, or are brought by human-trafficking rings.
In a fact sheet distributed by the agency, it said the impact of such children in temporary shelters on surrounding communities "is minimal."
It said the federal government provides "food, clothing, education and medical screening to the children. All activities, including outdoor recreation time, take place on the grounds of the temporary facilities. Children do not attend local schools."
The fact sheet also says communities are safe with such temporary shelters.
"Many of these children are fleeing violent situations in their home country and choose to leave rather than join a gang," it said. "They endure a long and dangerous journey to reach the border. When they are placed in a temporary facility, they are, as a rule, relieved to be in a safe and caring environment where they can wait for a family member to arrive and take custody."
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