COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Only two states say their National Guard operations could provide facilities to house unaccompanied immigrant children following a request for options from the government.
California and Virginia told the National Guard Bureau they have facilities that could be used but they would require additional funding if asked to meet federal requirements.
Other states responding to the National Guard Bureau’s request late last month say they aren’t set up to handle that kind of housing or they lack the proper facilities.
Ohio also voiced concern about the government’s oversight of the program, pointing to a case of labor trafficking at a large egg farm in the state earlier this year.
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The “government has attempted to increase capacity and push people through the system too quickly causing unintended consequences,” Ohio Adj. Gen. Mark Bartman said in the state response obtained by The Associated Press.
Bartman said he and Gov. John Kasich have concerns about the government’s ability to safely handle the increased number of children in refugee resettlement programs.
Kasich, a Republican candidate for president, raised similar issues in an August letter to President Barack Obama. Among his concerns was a lack of information shared with the state about children settled in Ohio.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican running for re-election, has pushed for an investigation into the way the government screens sponsors getting custody of unaccompanied children.
The government says about 1,100 children have been released to sponsors in Ohio’s Franklin, Hamilton and Tuscarawas counties.
A total of 10,588 unaccompanied children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in October and November, compared with 5,129 who crossed during the same two months last year, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.
U.S. immigration policy dictates that unaccompanied minors trying to escape dangerous situations can’t be turned away. In the Ohio case, federal prosecutors say several teens were fraudulently plucked from U.S. custody by conspirators posing as friends or family who forced them to work as virtual slaves on egg farms near Marion.
The case occurred at a time when the country’s immigration system was being overwhelmed by unaccompanied children fleeing unrest in Central America.
The Guard request to states was part of a bigger request by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the military looking for possible sites. The request sought facilities large enough to hold 300 beds for two months.
Although Virginia told the National Guard Bureau it would consider the request if funding became available, questions remain about the viability of such an operation, said Virginia Guard spokesman Cotton Puryear.
“While we are very sensitive to the needs of these unaccompanied children to find adequate housing, our primary concern is the possible negative impact on the readiness of units,” Puryear said.
In California, all facilities would require work for fencing or other items to meet the requirements, said California Guard spokesman Brandon Honig.
Earlier this month, HHS Director Sylvia Burwell formally asked the Defense Department to provide up to 5,000 temporary beds within 30 days for the minors.
The government has recently assessed Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico; Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; and Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, for potential use as temporary shelters, according to HHS.
The government’s expansion of its temporary ability to house children “is a prudent step to ensure that the Border Patrol can continue its vital national security mission to prevent illegal migration, trafficking, and protect the borders of the United States,” said HHS spokesman Mark Weber.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins