Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has faced charges of hypocrisy over his effort to discourage the Obama administration from housing some of the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have recently crossed the southern U.S. border in Carroll County, has been making a very public show of just how committed he is to helping those children. He has met twice with faith leaders to try to marshal their help, and he met this week with members of the legal community to encourage them to offer services to the children as well. More such meetings are in the works with those who would tend to the children's economic needs (food, clothes and the like) and groups who could help provide health care. At every opportunity, members of his administration talk about their efforts to help their "federal partners."
But there's a catch. The federal government has told the O'Malley administration how many of these children have wound up in Maryland (about 2,200 since January). It has told the state where the kids are from (almost entirely El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). But it has not told the state who the children are or precisely where they are now. The governor is amassing an impressive array of services, but he has no direct way to get them where they're needed.
Mr. O'Malley has been among the most outspoken of the nation's governors in opposing the quick deportation of these children — in fact, he criticized President Barack Obama's efforts to secure flexibility under a law that guarantees them a hearing before they are sent home. But he still faces criticism for waving the federal government off of a plan to send some of the children to an old Army facility near Westminster. The wisdom of that advice would seem to have been affirmed by the subsequent spray-painting of the phrase "no illeagles [sic] here" on the side of the building, but the criticism has continued.
Mr. O'Malley has sought to counter that by repeating a set of principles he would like see applied to the handling of any of the children who wind up in Maryland. He says they should be treated with compassion, kept safe, afforded due process and housed wherever possible with family members. Failing that, he says they should be cared for through the foster system or in small group homes, not large facilities.
But he's not in charge here. The federal government is. The feds are the ones who are finding relatives or foster homes, and they're doing the screening to make sure those settings are safe. The Department of Health and Human Services is finding group homes for the children; applications for grants to do so were due Tuesday. Maryland officials acknowledge that they do not for sure know what groups in the state may have applied.
The featured link on the state's main website, maryland.gov, points to a sign-up for those who want to offer assistance — anything from food to legal services — and includes information for those who want to volunteer as foster parents to the children. The state licenses foster parents in general, but the most it can do with regard to these children in particular is to point would-be caregivers to private agencies that are working with the federal government on pairing the children with foster parents, of which there are presently two operating in Maryland: KidsPeace and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Anne Sheridan, the head of the Governor's Office for Children, acknowledged that one of the main challenges the state faces is in connecting with the children and families who need help. "It would be great if it were enough to set up a website," she said, but it's not. Instead, the state is relying on advocacy groups, churches and other organizations to spread the word.
Federal officials have told the state that they are not releasing more information about the kids they're placing here out of privacy concerns. But given how overstretched federal officials are in dealing with this influx of migrants, it's hard to see a real justification for not sharing more information with a governor who is making this much of an effort to roll out the welcome mat. This isn't just a matter of getting Mr. O'Malley out of a minor political pickle, it's about caring properly for an extremely vulnerable population.
Just how vulnerable was underscored by the indictment last week of a 42-year-old Honduran man living in Baltimore County who is accused of having sexual relations with a 16-year-old migrant girl who was sent to live with him. There's no way to know whether the case might have turned out differently if state officials had been involved in the girl's placement and care, but it's certainly true in general that these children would be safer if state and federal governments were cooperating more closely.
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