Washington – Latino advocates are reacting with disappointment, dismay and anger over the Malloy administration’s decision to reject a federal request to house up to 2,000 immigrant children from Central America at the Southbury Training School.
“This is a humanitarian crisis and we are saddened that this was a missed opportunity to take a leadership position to help people seeking refuge,” said Werner Oyanadel of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
The commission, a legislative agency that makes recommendations for the advancement of the Latino and Puerto Rican community to the governor and state legislature, will hold a board meeting in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford late today to develop alternatives that would allow the state to help the children.
“Connecticut is on the record as being helpful to the immigrant community,” Oyanadel said, citing approval of a state DREAM Act to help undocumented children and its granting of drivers licenses to immigrants. “This is not what we want, but it’s what we have to do.”
But it may be difficult to persuade Gov. Dannel Malloy the state should be involved.
“Obviously, our hearts go out to the children in this situation,” said Malloy communications director Andrew Doba. “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.”
A flood of young immigrants, many unaccompanied, others with their mothers or fathers, have flooded over the U.S.-Mexico border since October, a figure that is expected to reach 90,000 at the end of the summer.
Under existing immigration law, unaccompanied minors being caught by Border Patrol agents are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses them and advises them of their legal rights. HHS detention facilities are overwhelmed by the flood of young immigrants – but a family member in the United States can make a claim to free them.
To ease the overcrowding, the Obama administration has asked governors across the nation to take some of the children in. He’s also asked Congress to pass a law that would provide an additional $3.7 billion to handle the crisis and allow the administration to speed deportation of the children.
The Connecticut Mirror obtained an e-mail from the state Office of Policy and Management that said the Southbury Training School’s aging condition and small size were among several factors that would make it a poor choice to house immigrant kids.
Oyanadel said the state can find an alternative to the Southbury Training School and perhaps agree to take in fewer children, 500 or so.
Or the Malloy administration could help find non-profit agencies in the state that can, under federal law, temporarily care for the children.
“This is historic in nature and likely to get worse,” Oyanadel said.
Many of the children have been abused by traffickers on their long journey from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. border. Many were detained while fleeing violence and extortion from gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Some children believe they will receive leniency from U.S. authorities because Obama two years ago granted temporary legal status to undocumented children who were brought to the United States by their parents in an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But to be eligible for DACA, children had be living in the United States continuously since 2007 and be at least 15 years old.
But John Jairo Lugo, an immigration advocate with New Haven’s Unidad Latina en Accion, said the real reason Central American children are fleeing their countries to come to the United States is the violence roiling their nations. He blames the United States for aiding countries like Honduras that even the State Department has criticized for its poor human rights record.
“These are people who are the product of U.S. policy in Central America,” Lugo said.
He said Malloy’s decision not to house immigrant children in the Southbury Training School “is bad because this is a governor who says he cares about immigrants.”
“Connecticut is a welcoming state,” Lugo said. “Connecticut has many empty buildings, like the New Haven Armory and closed schools that could be an alternative [to the Southbury Training School.]
His organization has helped about 10 children – some of them accompanied by their mothers, others not — who have relocated to Connecticut to live with family members. All of the children are from Guatemala and range in age from 2 to 17.
Meanwhile, the president’s immigration request in Congress has received mixed reviews. Many Democrats support the appropriation of more money to deal with the wave of immigrants, but will not support amending the Trafficking Victims of Protection Act to allow quicker deportation of the children.
“Some members of Congress are proposing that the way to solve this problem is by amending the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to make it easier to deport these children by rushing them through a superficial hearing without access to counsel or child welfare specialists. That is unacceptable,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also support the appropriation of more funds. But, like Leahy they reject speeding deportation of the children.
The Pew Research Center for People & the Press released a report on Wednesday showing that Obama gets very low ratings for his handling of the issue.
It found just 28 percent of the public approves of the way he is handling the surge of children from Central America, while twice as many, 56 percent, disapprove. That is one of the lowest ratings for his handling of any issue since he became president.