Undocumented minors housed in VA, but McAuliffe says ‘we don’t have an issue’

Kathryn Watson
|
Jul 31, 2014 5:00 AM
Undocumented minors housed in VA, but McAuliffe says  ‘we don’t have an issue’
Photo by WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley

ON IMMIGRATION: Gov. Terry McAuliffe answered an immigration on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” on Wednesday.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org. Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In perhaps the most he’s spoken publicly on the immigration crisis, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said it’s the feds’ problem, not Virginia’s, and that undocumented children are only being housed at one location in the commonwealth — even though news outlets have confirmed more.

When a WTOP listener Wednesday asked the governor how he’s going to handle the immigration crisis now that it’s reached Virginia in terms of jobs and schools, McAuliffe partly dodged the question, instead pinning the crisis on Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform, secure the border and allow for smart immigration. McAuliffe said there’s “nothing we can do at the state level.”

“Now, we don’t have an issue in Virginia — we only have really one facility, that is the federal government contracting with a private contractor, Joe Gibbs,” McAuliffe said on radio Wednesday, referring to Joe Gibb’s nonprofit Youth For Tomorrow in Prince William County. “That is not the state. That is the federal government contracting with a private entity, which they’re entitled to do.”

But the governor must not be up on his news. More than one facility in Virginia is housing unaccompanied minors in Virginia, as Watchdog.org and other news outlets have reported.

At the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center in Alexandria alone, the feds have housed 310 minors since 2007, according to Krystal Kimrey, the center’s executive director. Since April, 51 undocumented children have arrived — 19 in April 11 in May, 12 in June, and nine in July, according to Kimrey.

“We house up to 20 UAC youth at one time,” Kimrey told Watchdog.org in an email.

The Roanoke Times reported earlier this month that more than half of the children living at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center — about 24 — are undocumented. The federal government has held a federal contract for the past five years to house unaccompanied minors there.

The feds have been tight-lipped on requests from Watchdog.org as to where else they’re placing these children.

“We do not identify regular/permanent Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelters for the safety and security of minors and staff at the facilities,” Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Administration for Children and Families told Watchdog.org in an email a couple of weeks back.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services, reported the feds have placed 2,234 unaccompanied minors with sponsors — typically relatives — in Virginia from Jan. 1 to July 7.

Of course, that only represents children who have actually been placed in homes, not children who are still being held in detention centers and other facilities.

For the past two weeks, Watchdog.org has made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to contact the governor and his press team to find out the governor’s stance on the issue, and what he intends to do — particularly where the extra funds will come from if these extra children are enrolled in the public school systems.

At the beginning of next week, the governor’s office is due to hand over documents to Watchdog.org from a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act related to anything in the governor’s office on the crisis.

On WTOP, McAuliffe emphasized that something does need to be done to curb the illegal immigration tide — but also emphasized that those responsibilities rest with Congress. He pointed out that a federal law signed by President George W. Bush requires the government to give hearings to any child who enters the country illegally from a non-bordering nation.

He also said lawmakers and others speaking out need to “get the rhetoric down a little bit.”

Delegate Bob Marshall has requested more judges to speed up deportation hearings, and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter also sent a letter to the governor, urging him to avoid taking any part in the housing of undocumented immigrants in the commonwealth.

Read the governor’s remarks on illegal immigration, as offered on WTOP on Wednesday, here.