HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials responded Friday to concerns about the state rejecting a federal request to temporarily house up to 2,000 immigrant children from Central America at a mostly vacant facility, saying no properties met the federal government’s criteria.
In a letter released Friday, the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, said the U.S. General Services Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reached out to the state on July 3, seeking facilities with at least 90,000 square feet of open space for immediate use. The buildings would have to comply with federal environmental and Americans with Disabilities Act standards, with additional outdoor space for trailers holding showers, restrooms and kitchens.
But Ojakian said the state’s Office of Policy and Management determined the Southbury Training School and other vacant state properties were inadequate.
“The decision OPM made was based on a factual review of state assets weighed against a list of specific criteria, including urgent time constraints,” Ojakian wrote in a letter to state Rep. Juan Candelaria, chairman of the General Assembly’s Black and Latino Caucus. “The state of Connecticut simply does not own appropriate facilities that can accommodate these needs.”
Thousands of children from Central America have been crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. illegally and without their parents. The U.S. has been urging the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to take steps to stem the exodus of children. The volume of child immigrants has prompted President Barack Obama to ask Congress to approve an emergency $3.7 billion spending bill to deal with the “urgent humanitarian crisis.”
Ojakian said OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes and Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz are working with federal authorities to match some of the thousands of children with family members living in the state. Also, the administration is working with the federal government to help families that want to house some of the children temporarily.
On Thursday, Candelaria sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asking him to reconsider housing the children, saying it’s “not the time to point fingers or wait for Congress” to deal with the problem.
“We understand your concerns with the Southbury Training School and do not pretend to minimize them,” Candelaria said. “However, we cannot keep our arms crossed while these detention centers continue to overflow and these children suffer in the direst of conditions through no fault of their own.”
During a Republican gubernatorial primary debate on Thursday, the GOP’s endorsed candidate, Tom Foley, accused Malloy of deciding too quickly not to house the children. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the decision was out of character for Malloy, who has supported driver’s licenses and in-state tuition for immigrants living in the country without legal permission.