In a letter to President Barack Obama, Gov. Nathan Deal expressed dismay last week upon learning federal authorities have transferred more than 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children to Georgia to live with sponsors over the last six months. Deal said the state was not notified these children were being sent here and only learned about it recently.
“Before the federal government asks states to take in children who don’t have a family to live with here, we need to get serious questions answered about the children’s federal status and the government’s short- and long-term plans for solving this issue,” his letter reads.
Similarly, Robert Quigley, spokesperson for Cobb County, said Cobb officials have not been made aware of any of the children being sent to the county.
In 2005, residents of Louisiana displaced by Hurricane Katrina came to the county and were given shelter at the West Cobb Recreation Center. However, Quigley said the shelter was set up by the Red Cross and the county simply provided the facility. There are no plans for such a shelter for the unaccompanied immigrant children. However, he added, the county, if asked, would consider helping the Red Cross again.
The shelter may not be necessary, according to Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman. Robinson said the children sent to Georgia are staying with relatives or were placed in foster homes by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The state was not consulted on this in any way,” he added.
The possible impact on schools
The influx of children to the area has Kathleen Angelucci, chairwoman of the Cobb Board of Education, worried.
“While the District educates all children, we share the concerns expressed by the governor. The added costs could bankrupt those districts that are cash strapped. It is unsettling that the federal government would request that states take in children who don’t have a family to live with,” she wrote in an email to the MDJ.
Still, Jay Dillon, district spokesman, said Cobb schools would treat any undocumented immigrant child as they would any other new student.
“Federal law prohibits public schools from inquiring about the legal status of a child,” Dillon said. “Therefore, if any of these students do show up, we will not know their status, but we will treat them as we would any other child and provide them the best possible education for as long as they are enrolled.”
Randy Weiner, chairman of the Marietta Board of Education, said the schools must educate all enrolled children, regardless of immigration status. To enroll, however, a child’s guardian must have proof of residency within the city. If the system sees an increase of children, undocumented or not, it would simply need to hire more staff, he added.
“We would have to hire the right personnel, that’s all. And we will do that,” Weiner said. “Any of our schools could see an increase in kids moving into the neighborhood. No matter where they come from, we could see increases in several of our schools. But we can handle it. We’ll just have additional staff in place.”
An unsettled debate
D.A. King, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, said this most recent crisis has been inaccurately portrayed in the media.
“These people, for the most part, are not quote unquote children,” King said. “Most of the people crossing the border illegally in this current scenario, in addition to the normal illegal immigration and the drug influx, are entire families. Over and above that, most of the quote unquote minors are teenagers.”
The first thing the country needs to do to begin solving this problem, King said, is to secure the border.
“The first thing you do when you come home and you have a broken hose on your washing machine is to turn off the water before you clean up the mess,” he said. “We have to secure the border.”
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, disagreed.
“If you’re talking about shutting the door on a child that has been abused, a child that has been victimized, a child that needs safety and refuge, that is not who we are as a country,” Gonzalez said. “That is not who we are as Americans. … That’s not what a Christian would do, either.”
He added: “We don’t tolerate that with children being locked in hot cars. Why would you turn away a child at your door seeking refuge?”
Instead, Gonzalez said the country’s immediate focus should be the safety and welfare of the children coming to the country.
“Secondly, we need to ensure there is due process for these children to determine their claims of asylum or refugee status,” he said.
According to King, granting either of those statuses would be costly.
“These people have not been classified as refugees,” King said. “They have not been given asylum. If they get either one of those titles, they become eligible for a very, very long list of public benefits that’s going to cost the American and Georgia taxpayers an arm and a leg.”
Gonzalez said if the children are designated, they should be afforded access to an education not only for moral reasons, but because of federal law.
“Many of the critics have said, ‘They’re illegal. Send them back,’ touting the law,” Gonzalez said. “What they don’t recognize — and they really don’t know what they’re talking about — is there is a law that is in place. We need to follow the due process associated with that. And, ultimately, as they do get settled in our communities, then the rule of law says we need to ensure that they are provided an education.”