The apparent crisis at the southern U.S. border finally hit home this week. According to state and federal officials, 1,154 unaccompanied alien children (UAC) are now staying in Georgia while they await immigration hearings.
In a letter Thursday, Governor Nathan Deal requested information from President Barack Obama about the children the federal government has placed in homes in Georgia since January.
“It is my belief that you need to provide states with timely and more precise information about the situation,” Deal wrote.
Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said that Governor is most concerned about what state services these immigrants may need and the potential strain that could put on communities across the state.
“We don’t have any data on them. We don’t know if they are enrolled in school. We don’t know if they are enrolled in social service benefits,” said Robinson. “If someone of another nationality is classified as a refugee, they are entitled to a smorgasbord of social services. But the federal government does pick up the price tag for much of that when they are refugees. These children have not been classified as refugees and that was one thing that the letter pointed out—is we’ve seen no classification of these children by the federal government. They’re just being distributed.”
Robinson believes the federal government, particularly the Obama administration, has left states in a difficult position.
“There are no easy answers at this juncture. We know that many of the stories are heart-wrenching stories and certainly, these children are not criminals—they are victims. They are pawns in a very high-stakes policy discussion and that’s unfortunate,” said Robinson.
Deal’s letter described Georgians as “compassionate and loving,” though some feel his letter was anything but.
“I thought it was disappointing,” said Azadeh Shahshahani the immigrants' rights project director for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia. “Though it included some expressions about caring for the children, the bottom line tone of the letter was an unwelcoming one—really flying in the face of our values as a country and as a state.”
Shahshahani said she found Deal’s implication that the U.S. should send these children home particularly troublesome, considering the danger they face in their home countries.
“There was a reason that they had to flee from their countries of origin and you know, in a lot of these cases they in fact, cannot return back. They face the risk of being killed or tortured or being recruited into gangs and I’m sure that the majority of Americans agree that we do not want to send kids back to those situations,” said Shahshahani.
She argued that the state likely is not paying for services for any UAC in Georgia because the federal government has placed the children with sponsors. Under the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, the federal government provides unaccompanied alien children with education along with medical and mental health services, paid for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
But Robinson said the Governor’s underlying concern is the lack of communication between the federal government and the states.
“This is a federal problem that requires a federal solution. So, we are dependent upon the Obama administration taking proactive steps to deal with this crisis,” explained Robinson.