CT minority caucus chairman urges Malloy to reconsider housing migrant children

State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven

CT Mirror (file photo)

State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven

The chairman of the Connecticut legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on Thursday urged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to reconsider a decision not to allow undocumented migrant children from Central America to be housed at Southbury Training School.

In a letter released to the media in the late afternoon, Rep. Juan R. Candelaria, D-New Haven, urged Malloy to look beyond concerns about the Southbury facility.

“We cannot keep our arms crossed while these detention centers continue to overflow and these children suffer in the direst of conditions through no fault of their own,” Candelaria wrote.

Federal officials estimate as many as 90,000 children will be detained this year at detention sites in the American Southwest as unprecedented numbers cross the border to escape poverty and violence in their home countries. Officials say these sites cannot provide adequate care while the children, detained under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, are interviewed and processed for possible deportation back to their countries of origin.

Congress has been trapped in partisan gridlock over funding for the timely processing of these cases, as well as over the larger question of immigration reform in general.

Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, have argued the children should be treated as refugees and given the support services needed to help them earn U.S. citizenship.

Blumenthal announced Thursday that he would visit a patrol station Thursday evening and Friday in McAllen, Texas on the border with Mexico. The senator also will receive a briefing on the immigration crisis at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where some of the migrant children are being detained.

The children fleeing to the U.S. lack adequate health care and often become victims of human trafficking, rape and other violence and abuse.

“Let’s not make them [the children] suffer for mistakes that others have made,” Candelaria wrote to Malloy. “They should not be treated as criminals when they do not represent any threat to our public safety or public health.”

Also Thursday, the New Haven-based Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance also urged the administration to reconsider its position.

Candelaria’s caucus includes 20 of the state legislature’s 187 representatives and senators.

The Mirror first reported Tuesday that the state Office of Policy and Management denied a request from the U.S. General Services Administration to house up to 2,000 of these children at the Southbury facility.

The GSA asked that approximately 90,000 square feet at Southbury be made available for six months to a year. In an email to the state, it wrote that the need for housing was “urgent” and that the federal government would cover all living, medical and maintenance costs.

But in a July 15 response to the federal agency, an OPM official wrote that the aging school’s condition, the sensitive nature of caring for the developmentally disabled clients already there, as well as several legal and procedural hurdles, prevent Connecticut from assisting.

Candelaria asked the administration to work with the legislative caucus to find an alternative to the Southbury school to house the migrant children.

“Obviously, our hearts go out to the children in this situation,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Thursday. “But we don’t currently have the ability to meet this request.  What this really speaks to is the absolute necessity for Congress to pass the President’s emergency supplemental request and comprehensive immigration reform.”

More than 300 individuals currently receive an array of medical therapeutic, residential and other support services at Southbury, which employs more than 1,000 full- and part-time and consulting staff.

Built in the late 1930s as a home for the developmentally disabled, the Southbury school is the only large residential facility of its kind in the state.

Since 1984 the school has been the target of multiple court challenges alleging that it lacks adequate services and other resources to serve its clients. Between 1997 and 2008, at least some portions of facility operations were under federal court oversight.

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