- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - More than 100 children who entered the country illegally and alone were sent to Iowa in the first half of the year, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.

Spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said via email Tuesday that the 122 children were placed with sponsors in the state between Jan. 1 and June 30. He said they were part of the Unaccompanied Alien Children program, which deals largely with children from Central America.

The news was first reported in the Omaha World Herald.

Gov. Terry Branstad has been opposed to hosting any of the Central American children that have surged across the U.S. border with Mexico in recent months. Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said Tuesday that federal officials didn’t notify the state about the children until after the newspaper alerted state officials. Centers said the state is trying to get more information.

“The Obama administration’s lack of transparency is making it difficult for states,” Centers said. He said Branstad met recently with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who provided no information about immigrant children in Iowa.

More than 57,000 youths, mostly from Central America, have crossed into the U.S. illegally since October. Advocates for the children say many are fleeing gang violence.

Under current law, immigrant children from countries that do not border the United States and cross into the U.S. by themselves are turned over to federal authorities. Then, they often are placed with relatives already living here while they wait for an immigration court to decide their future. The court process can take years.

On Monday, Branstad said such children should be returned home. He contends federal officials must improve border security.

“I think their own countries need to deal with their problems. We can’t accept every child in the world that has problems,” Branstad said, adding that he did not consider these children to be refugees.

Branstad has also been critical of the fact that there is no review of the immigration status of relatives who take custody of the children.

Joe Enriquez Henry, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, said the state should welcome these children and offer them social services.

“When the governor says he doesn’t want to welcome these kids, that sends a chilling effect on different departments in the state,” Henry said, adding that his organization is among several groups that would try to provide support to the immigrant children in Iowa.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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