Maryland officials said Wednesday that most of the more than 2,800 immigrant children who have come to the state from Central America this year have been resettled with family members.
Fewer than 50 are housed in a group setting at any one time, said Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas, and only for less than a month while awaiting placement in a private home. He said the facility is in Baltimore County but declined to say where.
Dallas said the children have shown themselves to be resilient in the face of the problems of their homelands and the arduous journeys that brought them to the nation's southern border. Many were fleeing gang violence and drug activity in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, officials have said, while others were trying to escape poverty. In some cases, they were following other family members who arrived in the United States — some legally, others not — years before.
"They have suffered some trauma and they need some help, but they do have smiles on their faces," Dallas said.
The positive assessment came as state officials and leaders of private groups gave a news briefing to report on recent developments on Gov. Martin O'Malley's effort to provide a welcome to the unaccompanied minors, most of whom arrived in the United States without permission.
Critics of the governor's policy, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, have argued the state should not be supporting illegal immigration and the children should be sent back to their families in their home countries as quickly as possible.
The figure of 2,800 is a revision of a previous estimate of 2,200. Dallas said Maryland still leads the nation on a per-capita basis in the number of immigrant children its has taken in during the current wave. That is because Maryland has the nation's largest concentration of Central American immigrants, he said.
Dallas spoke at a news conference in the Prince George's County town of Hyattsville, which he said is the site of the largest number of child placements in the state. Rounding out the top five are Silver Spring, Gaithersburg, Baltimore and Frederick, he said. Those five places have accounted for 58 percent of the placements, he said.
An appeal in July by the O'Malley administration and religious leaders to provide services to help the immigrant children has drawn a supportive response from both individuals and groups, Dallas said. "By far, it's been folks saying 'How can I help?' " he said.
Dallas said the administration and nonprofit groups have formed a public-private partnership to launch a website called buscandomaryland.com — derived from the Spanish word for "to look for" — to match those with needs and people offering services such as food, clothing and health care.
Administration officials said people can also seek or offer help though the state's 211 phone system.
Adonia Simpson, representing Catholic Charities, said an important part of the effort is to provide the children with legal representation when they go before immigration judges for hearings on whether they may remain in the United States.
"Without an attorney, most of these children will be forced to defend themselves," Simpson said.
O'Malley has made legal representation one of the main goals of the state's efforts to help the young immigrants. Last week, he urged Maryland attorneys to respond to a plea by state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera to offer their services to the children on a pro bono basis.
Sharon Goldsmith, executive director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, said her group is working to organize the effort to recruit lawyers willing to work for free. She said the group has scheduled a training session for lawyers Oct. 29 in Annapolis on how to handle state and federal court proceedings involving immigrant minors.