Republican members of the House of Delegates are asking Gov. Martin O'Malley how Maryland will deal with the children coming to the state in the wave of unaccompanied minors from Central America entering the United States illegally.
In a letter Tuesday to O'Malley, the House GOP caucus asked several questions, including how many immigrant children are expected, how they will be sheltered, what public services they will need and how much it will cost.
Republicans urged the governor to brief General Assembly members on the state's response. They did not criticize O'Malley's policy of welcoming the children as refugees rather than treating them as lawbreakers, but statements issued by House GOP leaders reflected skepticism over the governor's approach.
"Federal immigration issues aside, I worry about the health and safety of these vulnerable children that have been brought into our state," said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County. "We also expect to gain a greater understanding of how this major undertaking is being managed and what oversight is in place to ensure that the interests of the citizens of Maryland are protected."
Administration officials said they would respond to the lawmakers' questions, but in some instances — especially concerning costs — they would have to refer them to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"This is largely a federal process," said Ted Dallas, Maryland's secretary of human resources.
In response to one Republican question, Dallas said none of the children are in state care. The O'Malley administration has said more than 90 percent of the more than 2,200 immigrant children who came to Maryland between Jan. 1 and early July were placed with family members already here.
The federal government has reported that about 60,000 unaccompanied minors, most from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, have crossed the southwestern border illegally since October.
Maryland, which has a large concentration of Central American immigrants, has absorbed more of the children on a per capita basis than any other state, according to the federal government.
O'Malley has offered to help federal officials place some children in the state but has balked at the idea of housing them in large shelters.
"They get screened immediately when they are essentially apprehended by the Border Patrol," said Anne Sheridan, director of the Governor's Office of Children.
Sheridan said many children who have arrived in Maryland this year are already enrolled in schools. By law, public schools must admit children living in the community regardless of their immigration status.
Sheridan said the Maryland State Department of Education is working with local jurisdictions to determine what help local school systems might need.
Dallas said O'Malley administration officials met with about 70 faith leaders and others Tuesday to discuss how to help with the children's basic needs. He said his department should soon be able to announce a plan to collect donated clothing.