RALEIGH — Citing health, public safety, criminal justice, and fiscal concerns, Gov. Pat McCrory Tuesday called for immediate federal action to address the relocation of 1,200 unaccompanied illegal-immigrant minors into North Carolina.
“As governor of North Carolina, I’m calling on the president and the leaders of Congress to cancel their vacation to solve this problem,” McCrory said at an afternoon news conference.
“I encourage both leaders of Congress and the president to reach out to governors, to mayors, to sheriffs, to county health and school officials who are going to feel the impact of this very, very serious issue in all states,” McCrory said. “This is not the time to wait another two or three months.”
McCrory said he is unaware of any legal recourse to the relocation or to prevent further federal distribution of illegal immigrants to North Carolina, and his goal is to reunify the children with their families in their home countries.
“The way the system is supposed to work is that these children should be returned home. Frankly, there should have been efforts in place long ago to ensure that this large wave of children should not have been allowed across the border,” McCrory said. “But that system is severely broken.”
The governor characterized the Obama administration’s response to the surge of illegal children as woefully inadequate, and said the situation has mushroomed beyond a border crisis.
“They aren’t ready for this volume. They aren’t ready for the security background checks. They aren’t ready for the health care. They aren’t ready for the follow-up of immunizations. They aren’t ready for record keeping. Our educational systems aren’t ready,” and the defective approach is being repeated in all states now housing the illegals, McCrory said.
Various news accounts say that the Homeland Security Department places the number of children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras entering the United States illegally over the past 10 months at 62,000.
McCrory said he just learned a week and a half ago in a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that the 1,200 children had been placed in North Carolina. The notification did not include the children’s names, age, gender, or health status.
“We have not been given any details on their immunization status and what steps need to be taken later on regarding follow-up steps regarding their medical care,” and whether North Carolina school children may be put at risk of contracting illness or disease potentially afflicting the illegal immigrants, McCrory said.
“We also need more information on the procedures our schools must use in accepting documentation” to enroll the children, he said.
Treating the incoming children could drain state resources budgeted for North Carolina children needing health and social services, and some counties may not have any extra money to care for the illegals.
Aldona Wos, state secretary of health and human services, is coordinating a process through which all 100 counties can communicate DHHS activity involving the children in their sectors.
Wos is worried that emergency officials will not be aware of potential medical crises or mental health problems among the influx population, McCrory said.
McCrory expects the number of undocumented children to rise “fairly dramatically” due to North Carolina’s large Latino population being targeted by the feds for sponsor families.
“No sufficient background checks have been done on the sponsors of these children, and many of these sponsors, we assume and have been told, are themselves undocumented or illegal,” McCrory said.
“This is a major concern of ours for these children,” McCrory said. “Are they being put in situations where they can be used for criminal activities, or abused in such areas as prostitution, or drugs, or trafficking, or anything else that could harm these children?”
“President Obama has all but invited the flood of illegal immigrants across our borders – and into our state – by making it clear that his administration will do little to deport those who are caught,” said North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, R-3rd District.
“In order to put an end to the border crisis, we must immediately begin enforcing existing immigration laws. To that end, I voted just this past Friday in favor of H.R. 5272, that would prohibit President Obama from bypassing Congress to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants through his [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program,” Jones said.
“Instead of further funding or further legislation, what we need is a president who will perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law — and that means securing our borders, deporting those who have arrived illegally, and making it clear that such behavior will not be rewarded with citizenship in the future,” Jones said.
“We are a nation of laws, and those laws must be respected and followed. We cannot simply open up our borders, and these children will ultimately have to be sent back to their home countries,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
“I believe Congress should take action to address the humanitarian crisis on the border, but that response must address the root causes of this migration by cracking down on the criminal trafficking operations that are transporting these children,” Hagan said.
“That’s why I have advocated for funding for the military’s U.S. Southern Command to combat these traffickers along the routes they’re using to bring kids to the U.S.,” she said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
A Civitas poll released Tuesday identified immigration as the top concern among 12 percent of North Carolina registered voters surveyed. Adam Geller of National Research, Inc. of Holmdel, N.J., who conducted the poll, said the manner in which immigration “shot up” unexpectedly in recent months was “startling.”
The poll also showed that 51 percent of respondents favored speeding up the immigration process, even if it means some children eligible for asylum are deported, while only 32 percent favored following current policy.
McCrory is concerned about the ability to deport children who do not qualify for asylum. He said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told him only 50 percent of illegal immigrant children report for immigration hearings, and he expects an even lower percentage in North Carolina.
“If a sponsor is not returning a child back to the immigration court, we’re strongly recommending the federal government take legal action against the sponsors up to and including deportation,” McCrory said.
He called on the federal government to provide the state with verified background checks on sponsors, and to provide their names so they can be cross-referenced in databases of criminal offenders.
McCrory is urging the federal government to reduce the waiting time in clogged immigration courts so the children can get back home quickly. Waiting time for a case to be heard in the Charlotte immigration court is 257 days, he said.
He also called on the General Assembly to reconsider its position on requiring employers to verify the immigration status of job applicants. “I personally think that the state legislature in the near future needs to revisit E-Verify laws that were passed in North Carolina last year over the objection of my veto,” McCrory said.
He believes eliminating the requirement on employers in certain occupations to prove their workers are legal to work in the United States has enabled illegal immigrants in North Carolina to become potential sponsors of the incoming children.
Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.