Pa. legislators cite ‘risks’ of undocumented immigrant children

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HARRISBURG — Republican legislators expressed concern this week that unaccompanied immigrant children housed in Pennsylvania could be affiliated with criminal gangs.

In a letter Monday to the state’s congressional delegation, 21 Republican members of the state House wrote that they were concerned some of the more than 500 such children in the state could threaten public safety.

They cite federal statistics claiming that in the 2013 fiscal year 37 percent of children in a program for unaccompanied immigrants were from Guatemala, 26 percent were from El Salvador and 30 percent were from Honduras.

“Given the demographics of these young immigrants and their home countries, and the fact that over 57,000 unaccompanied children were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection between October 2013 and June 30, 2014, we believe that there is some risk that a portion of these young people could be affiliated with criminal gangs,” the letter states. “We are writing today to ask that you give serious consideration to this potential safety concern and that you take action to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

House members who signed the letter included Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, and Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.

The question of gang membership is one the federal Administration for Children & Families addresses on a list of frequent questions about unaccompanied children.

“Many of these children are fleeing violent situations in their home country and choose to leave rather than join a gang,” the agency states.

 

The federal government told state officials last week that 120 unaccompanied immigrant children are living in two facilities, in Bethlehem and in Berks County, and that since the beginning of the year, 386 children have been placed with sponsors, said Kait Gillis, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare.

The 386 children released to Pennsylvania sponsors are among 30,340 unaccompanied children released to sponsors in the U.S. since Jan. 1, according to the Administration for Children & Families. The agency states that children receive vaccinations and medical screenings before they are released to a sponsor.

Holy Family Institute held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss its plan to bring child immigrants to Emsworth. Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement Tuesday that children from Central America are welcome in the city.

Gov. Tom Corbett and five other Republican governors wrote to President Barack Obama last week saying the U.S. needs a plan for handling the influx of children.

“We are concerned that there will be significant numbers who will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states,” wrote Mr. Corbett, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. “More importantly, we are concerned that the failure to return the unaccompanied children will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border.”


Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com, 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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