Governor, state officials discuss immigrant children plans

Maryland officials are still looking for ways to deal with the surge of Central American children entering the United States illegally and being sent to the state by the federal government.

More than 30,000 Central American children seeking refuge from violence in their home countries have illegally crossed the Mexico-U.S. border so far this year. As a result, the federal government has been sending immigrant children all over the country to reunite them with relatives or to place them into foster care while courts settle immigration issues.


Approximately 2,200 of the immigrant children have been sent to Maryland. In July, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voiced opposition to news that the federal government was eyeing a former military property near Westminster as a potential shelter for them.

Now, the state is having a series of meetings with various organizations, government agencies and individuals to discuss how to handle the surge of immigrant children, according to Ted Dallas of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.Topics up for discussion include providing children with residential and foster care services, legal aid, basic economic needs and health care, Dallas said.

And while the state is trying to plan to help the children, Anne Sheridan, director for the Governor's Office for Children, said during a conference call with media organizations Tuesday that it doesn't know how many more will be coming to Maryland in the future.

"If somebody has a crystal ball that could tell me that, I surely would like to borrow it," Sheridan said.

How will Maryland help?

Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a prepared release Tuesday outlining plans to deal with the influx of immigrant children into Maryland.

After meetings with leaders from Maryland's interfaith community, O'Malley has directed the state offices and departments to work with the federal government on three avenues of action.

The first option is to place unaccompanied children with relatives or sponsors already living in Maryland; the second option is to place the unaccompanied children in federal foster care; and the third option is to place unaccompanied children in small group care settings, if required.

The state has created a webpage, which can be found through, to harness the support it has received from around the state. The webpage has information for those interested on how they can become foster parents to an immigrant child, as well as answers some frequently asked questions about the process, according to the prepared release.

"Many meaningful and generous offers of assistance have come forward from across Maryland," O'Malley said. "The website will serve as a critical link between organizations and people with capacity and the children and families who need assistance."

More than 250 people have already gone to the website and expressed interest in becoming a foster parent, Sheridan said. Interfaith organizations, private companies and neighborhood organizations have all volunteered to help.

"We've been really encouraged by the kinds of depth and breadth of response we've seen," Sheridan said.

Where are the children from?

Of the more than 30,000 Central American children arriving in the U.S., Dallas said approximately 92 percent are from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.


Approximately 2,200 children have been brought to Maryland. The federal government estimates that nearly 90 percent of the children coming in from Central America are reunited with family members that live in the United States, Dallas said.

Nearly all of the kids arriving in Maryland have been reunited with their Maryland relatives, he said.

"The federal government estimates that the number of kids who may arrive from Central America could reach 60,000 by the end of the year," Dallas said.

How do the children get to Maryland?

When children cross into the U.S., they are under the jurisdiction of the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement, Dallas said.

Liaisons between the state and federal governments communicate daily when children are being brought in to the individual states. But, the placement decisions and the individual details about where the kids go are all left up to the federal government, Dallas said.

How many more will come?

Sheridan said there are a number of factors involved in trying to determine how many more Central American children will be brought to Maryland.

"There's a lot of things well beyond our control that are going to contribute to this projection," Sheridan said. "We just don't know."

Ultimately, Dallas said, it will depend on how many more children show up to the border with relatives in the United States. There's not a set equal share of children that each state is getting, he said.

How does the government ensure the children are placed in a safe environment?

Relatives and foster care services go through a series of screenings and background checks before children are placed in their care, Dallas said. It is the government's priority to place kids in a safe environment.

And it is the background checks that serve as the federal government's best safeguard against placing children in an unsafe home, he said.

Will the children go to Maryland schools?

Sheridan said federal law has long established the right of all children to attend public schools, regardless of their immigration status. As a result, the Maryland public school system will see an uptick in immigrant children.

"We'll be doing our best to coordinate with them and to deal with the challenges that presents," she said. "We're aware that this is having an impact in some of our larger jurisdictions. We're available to help address that."

Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or christian.

Rothschild opposes taxpayer resources being used for immigrant children

While Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild supports private citizens' efforts to take care of the Central American children crossing the border, he does not want the state or federal governments to use taxpayer resources to handle the situation.

Rothschild, R-District 4, has been the most vocal opponent on the board of commissioners of the federal government's movement of more than 2,200 illegal immigrant children to Maryland.

Charity is an individual mandate, not something the government should be involved in, he said.

"If an individual citizen uses his or her individual resources, that is compassion," Rothschild said. "If a government official takes money from one group of people and gives it to another group of people, that's not compassion. There's a term for that; it's Socialism."


Rothschild questioned if there really is a humanitarian crisis going on in Central America.

"Using the criteria that some elected officials are using, we could justify telling children in Detroit to leave America and go down to these Central American countries that have lower murder rates than Detroit," he said.

Rothschild said the federal government is manufacturing the situation.

"I don't believe the federal government is being entirely forthright with the American public about the nature of the situation," Rothschild said.

— Christian Alexandersen