By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Republican State Rep. David Craig is worried about the potential for a public health crisis coming to Wisconsin.
That’s one of the reasons he and three other state GOP lawmakers wrote a letter Thursday asking the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its request for Wisconsin to shelter hundreds of undocumented children who have crossed the Mexican border illegally.
“What are we bringing into our state when we have so many diseases internationally that used to be dormant and are now on the resurgence with some strain?” Craig, R-Vernon, told Wisconsin Reporter on Friday. “Is the federal government going through any review whatsoever of the health condition of the children, given the sheer volume of children that we are talking about?”
The Obama administration estimates it will catch 90,000 undocumented minors trying to cross the Mexican border without their parents by the end of the current budget year in September.
But the health implications are unclear to some parties because the federal government is “neglecting its obligation to uphold the law while failing to provide adequate information to state officials,” according to the letter, which was also penned by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington; and state Reps. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and John Nygren, R-Marinette.
Craig said interaction between the feds and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the state Department of Children and Families has been minimal.
“From what we can tell, the relationship between the federal authorities and the state authorities is basically nothing,” Craig told Wisconsin Reporter. “So, the federal government is being very secretive about all of these things.”
Craig said many Wisconsin lawmakers have learned about the possibility of undocumented children coming to the state through stories by Wisconsin Reporter and other news organizations.
“Shouldn’t it occur to federal officials that, boy, we should be looping in the state administration on this, given the huge role that they have in maintaining public health,” he added. “I think it is reckless and irresponsible for the federal government to be conducting its search in this way without including state officials at length.”
State lawmakers are awaiting an opinion from the Wisconsin Legislative Counsel on the state’s jurisdiction regarding the issue, according to Craig. Because the undocumented children are traveling all the way to Wisconsin from the southern border, Craig fears many will be allowed to stay, putting a further strain on state resources.
“That’s going to have fiscal consequences to it,” Craig said. “That’s going to have a price tag for the state just from that perspective, and that’s before you start talking about whatever might be coming with judicial proceedings and what ‘rights’ these children might be entitled to under federal law.”
But Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a Democrat, told Wisconsin Reporter in a statement he will continue to work with the White House, federal government and local stakeholders to identify and provide temporary shelters for undocumented children.
Abele, Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee Public Schools officials were contacted by Kathleen Falk, Region 5 director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and former Dane County executive, and asked to find facilities for the minors, most of whom are from Central America.
“This country derives its strength from diversity and for its compassion,” Abele said. “I believe we have a moral obligation to help in this growing humanitarian crisis. The America I love does not refuse shelter to the least among us or those seeking refuge from violence.”
Wisconsin Reporter was the first to report last week that Madison government officials received a request from the Department of Human and Health Services to look for housing for 150 to 250 undocumented minors.
Wisconsin Reporter also first reported this week that Madison has submitted at least two properties to the federal government for consideration: The former Cub Foods store near Stoughton Road, which the city owns, and the Shopko off Aberg Avenue, which is scheduled to close in August.
Catholic Charities in Milwaukee also has identified three sites in eastern Wisconsin to shelter up to 350 unaccompanied child immigrants.
But the Rev. David Bergner, director of the Milwaukee chapter of Catholic Charities, has declined to name the specific locations of the facilities. He says it should be up to the institutions that could house the children to release that information.