Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has staked out a particularly kid-friendly policy in handling the surge of illegal Central American children jumping the U.S. border, striking a bold and different direction from many other governors.
After an initial hiccup that saw Maryland communities balk at hosting children in shelters, Mr. O’Malley, who is considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and is courting Hispanic voters, has started holding closed-door meetings with advocates and care providers to try to get the children services, his aides said Tuesday.
The news comes as Health and Human Services officials released a tally of the locations where the children who have been released to relatives or foster care are stationed, and Maryland is near the top of the list, along with Texas, New York, Florida, California and Virginia.
Maryland’s more than 2,205 children puts it sixth on the list — but when measured as a percentage of its overall population, the state tops the chart, with nearly four illegal-immigrant children being placed with sponsors in the state for every 10,000 current residents. The District of Columbia and Virginia are second and third, each with nearly 3 children per 10,000 residents.
Mr. O’Malley’s aides said Tuesday that the governor is working to try to get the children legal assistance and is working on ways to make sure they can get health care.
Federal court rulings have previously established that the children have a right to public schooling, and the aides said Maryland is offering assistance to local school districts preparing for an influx when classes start in a few weeks.
“It’s our goal to keep these kids safe and treated with compassion while they’re with us,” said Anne Sheridan, executive director of the governor’s Office for Children.
The mid-Atlantic’s prevalence on the list of states receiving the illegal immigrant children is a result of the high number of Central Americans who live in the region. By contrast California, whose Hispanic population is primarily of Mexican origin, ranks near the middle of the states in rate of population.
Mr. O’Malley last month reportedly irked the Obama administration by both fighting a plan to house children in a new shelter in western Maryland, but also attacking the White House by saying the children shouldn’t be sent “back to certain death.”
The more than 2,200 children reported in the new data aren’t in shelters, but rather have been placed with sponsors — in most cases that means relatives, while in about 10 percent of cases it means foster families.
Mr. O’Malley’s aides said some Maryland care providers have bid to shelter the children, but overall, the governor wants them placed with families.
“The governor has been clear that he prefers and thinks the best place to serve these kids is in the home,” Department of Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
Mr. Dallas demurred when asked when Mr. O’Malley might speak publicly about the situation.
Mr. O’Malley has said he is looking at a run for the White House in 2016, and with Hispanic voters expected to be a major focus for both parties, his stance on keeping the children in the U.S. could separate him from others in the field.
Another potential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, initially reacted to the surge by calling for children to be deported as a way of sending a signal that illegal immigration wouldn’t be tolerated.