PORTLAND — Federal officials say a relatively small number of the unaccompanied immigrant children who have been flooding into the United States from Central America have been sent to Washington state, Oregon and Idaho over the past six months.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 211 immigrant children were released to sponsors — relatives, family friends or foster parents — in Washington, 50 in Oregon and 8 in Idaho between Jan. 1 and July 7.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s office is monitoring the situation, spokeswoman Jamie Smith said. Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been in consideration as a place to house children, but no final decision has been made. The base’s neighboring communities have voiced both concerns and support for the idea.
Even before January, Oregon received unaccompanied children into a foster-care program run by Morrison Child and Family Services, a Portland-based nonprofit.
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That program is now expanding — Morrison received nearly $3.7 million this year from the U.S. government to house unaccompanied immigrant minors, according to an online government database. In total, the nonprofit has received nearly $16.5 million in grants since 2010 for its residential services for unaccompanied children.
In a statement, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said the state welcomes the children and that the border surge was a reminder of Congress’ failure to enact immigration reform.
“These children are fleeing their homelands because of overwhelming violence and economic hardship, and they do not deserve to become political fodder,” Kitzhaber said.
Authorities in Idaho are taking the opposite tack. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter on Wednesday sent a letter to federal officials telling them not to send any of the unaccompanied young migrants to Idaho.
The letter was sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez.
“It should be understood that the state of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created,” Otter wrote. “Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.”
In an email to The Associated Press Thursday evening, Otter spokesman Jon Hanian wrote that Health and Human Services had not gone through any of the established channels to inform the Idaho Governor’s Office that some of the immigrant children had already been sent there.
“We are working now to determine the veracity of this report,” Hanian wrote. “Should it prove to be true, it underscores the importance of the letter the Governor released yesterday.”
About 57,000 minors, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, crossed into the U.S. since October. More than 30,000 have been released to sponsors throughout the U.S.