Washington –Nearly a dozen Connecticut mayors on Friday discussed what they can do to help house thousands of migrant children currently being held in overcrowded federal facilities, and the answer, so far, is “not much.”
Some Connecticut cities, including Bridgeport and New Haven, had considered housing the children in city-owned facilities, but those ideas on Friday appear to have been dropped.
Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, said the focus now is “working with the faith community” and other non-profit groups who might be able — and qualified under federal regulations — to take the kids in.
In any event, the consensus seemed to be that if any more young migrants relocate to the state, their numbers are likely to be small.
While the mayors did not come up with a final plan, they agreed to keep talking about options to help the children, Grotheer said. According to a spokesman for Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, the mayors have agreed to form a task force composed of their staffers to continue to explore the issue.
In their conference call — attended by nearly a dozen mayors in all — city officials discussed the need to have the federal government foot the bill for schooling and other local government services rendered to the children.
Meanwhile, at least one local organization came forward to offer not housing, but medical and dental assistance to any of the migrant children who have been brought here. Community Health Center, Inc., president Mark Masselli sent the governor a letter offering his organization’s assistance in what it considers a “humanitarian crisis.”
The mayors seem to be coming closer to the stance of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who rejected a federal request to take in as many as 2,000 of the Central American migrant children. The Malloy administration said there are no state properties that would meet federal requirements. It also said taking in the children would go against a state policy against institutionalizing youths.
Brett Broesder, spokesman for Finch, said those who apply for federal grants on behalf of Bridgeport have considered applying for money from a Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Relocation grant.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement put out a request for bids on a $350 million contract to states, including Connecticut, city governments, school districts, nonprofits, county governments and others, who are qualified and “licensed by an appropriate state agency to provide residential, group, or foster care services for dependent children.” Under the program, the minimum award would be $500,000; the maximum $100 million.
But Broesder said the Aug. 5 deadline was impossible for Bridgeport to meet. That might not be the case for non-profits who already offer residential services to children, he said.
He also said its likely that the number of children relocated to any agency would be small, “five, 10 or maybe 15.”
An official from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management also joined the mayor’s conference call, but the agency declined to comment on its participation.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to fight over a request from President Obama for $3.7 billion to address the migration crisis.
Obama’s request that a 2008 law child trafficking law be amended to speed deportation of the children has also met with resistance, mostly from Democrats like Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
That means the administration is exploring ways to use its executive authority to address the problem. One thing under consideration is moving the children to the head of the line as far as having their asylum claims or other immigration claims heard.
Under the current system, it could take more than 500 days for a child’s case to be heard by an immigration court because of the large numbers of pending cases.
“The waiting line is enormous,” a White House official said.
The administration is also pressuring the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, the countries where most of the children are from, to do more to stop traffickers who bring the children through Mexico to the United States. Obama invited the presidents from those Central American countries to the White House on Friday.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied children and thousands more adults with children have crossed the border since October. Many of the children are fleeing violence in their home countries. Others are making the dangerous trip north because they think they can stay.
However, the White House official said the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has slowed, from a high of more than 300 a week in June to about 150 last week.
She cited several possible factors for the slowdown, including the summer heat, administration efforts to run ads in Central America that say the children will not be able to stay, and Justice Department efforts to crack down on traffickers.
Many detained children — more than 300 in Connecticut – have been released to relatives in the United States.