Nebraska governor declines to help house migrant children; immigrant advocates respond

Posted at 12:05 PM, Apr 13, 2021

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP and KMTV) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts says he has rejected a federal request to help house unaccompanied migrant children.

The Republican governor says he disagrees with the Biden administration’s policy of allowing children to go to “sponsors” in the United States, usually parents or close relatives, while they pursue asylum cases in heavily backlogged immigration courts. He says he wants the state's resources used for children already in Nebraska.

In a statement on the governor's official website he said, "Right now, the Biden-Harris Administration is contacting states to take these children. Nebraska is declining their request because we are reserving our resources for serving our kids. I do not want our kids harmed as the result of President Biden’s bad policies.”

Erik Omar, Executive Director of the Omaha-based Immigrant Legal Center (ILC), told 3 News Now that his organization disagrees with the governor.

“Statistics show that a strong, strong majority of children will ultimately be released to family sponsors, so this concept that they would be a drain on state resources is false,” said Omar.

He said that the Immigrant Legal Center, as well as other nonprofits in the region, have previous experience serving unaccompanied minors who have arrived at the border.

“So, typically these children would be processed at the border and released to a family sponsor in Nebraska. Currently, those facilities at the border are being overwhelmed with the number of people that have shown up down there and the conditions are not great because they’re not designed to house children for this length of time,” said Omar. “The Biden administration is trying to find a humane alternative to that and has reached out to these state governors to ask them to use their state facilities to temporarily house the children and that is what the governor has denied at this point.”

Ricketts says federal officials should instead work with Central American governments to reunite the children with their families in their home countries. His statement came days after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made a similar announcement.

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“I think the governor is just really punting on the issue at this point in time to say that the Biden Administration should be focused on these Central American countries with keeping the children there in the first place. They’re already here and to say that it’s risky to spread them out through the United States, to me, is really a political ploy aimed at drumming up fear about immigrants in our country, which is really unfair to the children that are sitting in facilities down along the border,” Omar said.

He added that migrant children are making their way to the border for a variety of reasons including environmental factors, natural disasters, and gang violence.

Omar also said that the governors can’t keep migrant children out of the state. Once they are processed at the border, unaccompanied minors with Nebraska or Iowa ties can be sent to live with family sponsors.

“This is happening. It’s on us to welcome them to our communities, take care of them and give them the services that they need to help them through this situation, this terrible situation that they’re in, in the first place. I think it’s important for your viewers to recognize that the governor doesn’t get to decide whether or not these children end up in Nebraska,” Omar said.

He recommended that anyone wishing to help unaccompanied minors reach out to local nonprofits that work with immigrant populations.

In a statement, the ILC released the following information:

Despite reduced processing at the U.S. border due to COVID-19, 109 unaccompanied children fleeing danger in Central America have been released to family member sponsors in Nebraska in the past five months alone. This number will only grow, and Immigrant Legal Center expects that placement levels in 2021 and 2022 will be similar to 2018, when 568 children were released to sponsors in Nebraska.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement tracks the numbers of unaccompanied children released to sponsors by state:

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