By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns said Thursday that about 200 undocumented children have been placed in Nebraska after arriving at the U.S. Border, most of them from Central America.
Johanns said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has verified that a number of months ago, children were placed with families or sponsors in Nebraska, often after turning themselves into the U.S. Border Patrol and released under light supervision while awaiting deportation hearings. He said that number could be higher than 200, since it changes often.
Johanns said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tries to find a place the children can go, such as with relatives or sponsors in Nebraska.
“That is not a surprising number,” the senator said. “These kids are probably getting scattered all over the United States.”
Johanns said the children placed in Nebraska are part of the wave of children from Central America who have been shuttled by coyotes to America’s border and overwhelmed Texas facilities.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have been caught trying to sneak over the border since October, double the number from the same period the year before, according to a Reuters report.
“This can’t be allowed to continue,” Johanns said. “The law needs to be changed here … or we have no border when it comes to anybody under age.”
Johanns said he doubts whether there’s a stringent verification process to ensure the children going to people who are in the U.S. legally, and then the kids are told to appear at future deportation hearings.
“Let’s be realistic. What are the chances that a child who is placed with somebody who is not here legally is going to be presented in court by that family a year from now?” Johanns asked. “This child just disappears into American society.”
President Obama is seeking more than $3.7 billion in emergency funds to speed up processing the migrants, but Johanns said “a bunch of money” isn’t going to solve the problem.
When Obama said immigration laws wouldn’t be enforced for minors, he sent a signal that has been interpreted in Central America as a green light for minors to come to America, Johanns said.
“The tragedy of this is the coyotes are going to families throughout Central America and saying, ‘Pay me big money, give me your kids, I’ll get em up to the border,’” Johanns said. “Nothing could be more dangerous.”
A source in Nebraska’s congressional delegation said there’s deep frustration that the Obama administration is not being forthcoming about the unaccompanied minors and where they’re going.
“This is serious,” Johanns said. “We’ve got a chaotic situation on our hands.”
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Service officials said they were aware of the influx of children, but declined to comment because they aren’t eligible for state services.
The children apparently have been placed in the Omaha and Grand Island areas. Grand Island Superintendent Robert Winter said Wednesday he was aware some unaccompanied minors were being placed with relatives in the area. He estimated about 50 to 60 children will enroll in the school system.
“We’re aware that we may be getting some of those kids but we got some last year, so it’s not a new thing for Grand Island,” he said. “We don’t anticipate any problems.”
Grand Island has a large immigrant community, some of whom work in meat packing plants. It has a welcome center that for years has been working with children , Winter said.
“We will do what we need to do to accommodate them,” he said. “Like every school district, we have limited resources. It’s not a new phenomenon for us. We’ll make sure they have breakfast in the morning and a good day at school.”
Omaha immigration lawyer Amy Peck said on radio station KOIL that the number of children arriving at the border has increased three-fold over last year, but many are trying to escape crime and violence.
If they don’t have a parent or guardian with them, they’re turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has warehoused or jailed some children, she said.
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