On second thought: WI lawmaker wants records on housing undocumented children

Adam Tobias
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Aug 14, 2014 9:52 AM
On second thought: WI lawmaker wants records on housing undocumented children

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — State Rep. David Craig has had a change of heart.

COME TO THINK OF IT: State Rep. David Craig has changed his mind and will now pursue his open records request with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office.

The Republican lawmaker from Vernon has decided to pay for public records on local plans for sheltering unaccompanied child immigrants, despite Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office charging what Craig calls an “exorbitant amount.”

Craig told Wisconsin Reporter last week he was no longer going to pursue his open records request with Barrett because the fee — $46.01 an hour — was too steep.

Megan O’Connor, constituent relations manager for Barrett’s office, estimates it will take 9.48 hours to find the respective records, at a cost of $436.17.

But Craig is hoping to lower that figure by asking for the information on CDs.

“It’s our expectation … that will reduce costs significantly,” Jessica Ward, Craig’s spokeswoman, said.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s staff processed an identical open records request Wednesday and did not charge Craig, according to Ward. All the requested documents from Soglin were downloaded onto a CD.

Although U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director Kathleen Falk announced last week the federal agency is no longer looking for temporary shelters, Ward says Craig still finds it important to obtain the records from Barrett because of the Obama administration’s “overt tactic of dodging state government.”

Most state lawmakers and agencies, including the Department of Health Services and Department of Children and Families, have never been contacted by the federal government about local plans for undocumented children coming into the country from Mexico.

“While Representative Craig is pleased that Wisconsin is no longer being considered as a shelter location, that does not negate the fact that deliberate tactics were used by our federal government in an attempt to circumvent state government officials … It’s unacceptable,” Ward said. “Taxpayers deserve answers.”

Others are skeptical the lull in accompanied minors crossing the border will remain permanent. Even Falk admitted the situation is fluid.

The Rev. David Bergner, executive director of the Milwaukee chapter of Catholic Charities, told Wisconsin Reporter he wouldn’t be surprised if the state is called upon again once the extreme heat in the South subsides and railroad tracks used to transport immigrant children are repaired.

The federal government several weeks ago reached out to Barrett, Soglin, Catholic Charities, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Public Schools to find temporary shelters for up to 550 undocumented minors.

Federal officials also asked leaders in the Fox Valley in July to find housing for as many as 400 unaccompanied children, but no facilities are available, The Appleton Post Crescent reported Tuesday.

At least 60 undocumented minors have been placed in the care of parents or relatives in Wisconsin since Jan. 1, according to new data released by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. That number was at 50 in mid-July.