- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

MEADOWS PLACE, Texas (AP) - A group of Southeast Texas mayors on Friday pledged their support for a bill introduced in Congress that would give local communities time to assess any federal requests to house unaccompanied children who have illegally crossed into the U.S.

The bill would give local communities 90 days to evaluate such a request and hold a public hearing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - the agency providing help to the children - would continue to have the final decision on where to house them.

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, the sponsor of the bill, said current law doesn’t give local communities any opportunity to voice concerns about whether their cities and towns can take in the immigrant children, who have come in across the southern U.S. border.

“We’re compassionate. We want these people to come and be taken care of. But they can’t be taken care of if we put such a burden on our cities that they can’t bear it,” said Olson, a Republican from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. The bill was introduced Thursday and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

In an email, Kenneth Wolfe, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, referred the Associated Press to materials on his agency’s website, which say the temporary shelters have a minimal impact on local communities and the agency pays for and provides all services for the children “through its network of grantees.”

At a news conference, Olson and five Houston-area mayors said the proposed bill is not anti-immigrant but about bringing the children into situations that can properly support them.

The mayors said they just want a chance to determine what it would cost to feed, house and enroll the children in school if their communities are asked to do so. They also mentioned not wanting to go through a similar situation like when their communities were not prepared to take in many of the more than 200,000 evacuees who came to Houston after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

“Our hearts go out the children and their families. But it is our responsibility to make sure to not place a burden on taxpayers,” said Rosenberg Mayor Vincent Morales.

Some of the mayors said their communities currently don’t have the resources to take in any of the children.

“We have people in my own community that are asking me, ‘Why not help me first?’ And I think that’s what we should be doing,” said Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen.

Alyssa Villanueva, who lives in Missouri City, said she believes local communities can work together to overcome any concerns about helping the immigrant children.

“Yes, I do agree cities should be given the chance, but given a chance to do the right thing, to find a place (for the immigrants),” she said. “Just be informed before you say no.”

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70 .