LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman blasted federal officials on Friday for failing to share information about the estimated 200 unaccompanied Central American children who have been relocated to Nebraska while awaiting possible deportation.
Heineman, during a radio talk-show appearance, called it “incredible” and “outrageous” that federal officials he has contacted refuse to disclose the names, locations and sponsors of the children, or how long they might remain in the state.
“The one agency who has all the answers is the federal government, the federal Department of Health and Human Services,” he said. “They don’t have the courtesy to tell me who they are, who their sponsor is and how they’re going to be returned.”
Heineman took to the Chris Baker Show on KFAB Friday evening, a day after U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., revealed that about 200 of the unaccompanied children who have been detained after crossing into the U.S. had been placed with family members or sponsors in Nebraska.
President Barack Obama has said the children must be returned to their home countries and has asked Congress for an emergency allocation of $3.7 billion to address the situation.
With detention facilities overflowing along the southwestern U.S. border, many of the children are being relocated to stay with family members or others.
Heineman, who spoke from the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, said he wasn’t officially aware that some children had been relocated to Nebraska until learning of Johanns’ comments on Thursday.
The Republican governor, who has taken a hard line on immigration issues, said he called a federal HHS official and contacted the U.S. Office of Homeland Security but was told they would not share who the children are or where they are staying.
“This is incredible that our own government can be doing this and won’t tell state and local officials what’s going on,” he said.
Heineman said it’s important to know because Nebraska schools may end up educating the children this fall and because the children are not supposed to receive federal benefits.
He said he approached Vice President Joe Biden at the governors’ meeting on Friday and asked him to check into the situation. He also will work with Nebraska’s congressional delegation to “demand” the information.
Two Democrats, State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha and gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook, said they agree that the federal government should be sharing the information with state and local officials.
But both said the problem could be solved if conservatives in Congress stop blocking immigration legislation and quit dragging their feet and allocate funds to return the children.
Hassebrook has supported policies to toughen border security but also provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been in the United States for several years.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Ricketts, who has opposed a pathway to citizenship, said in a statement Friday that the federal government needs to work with the states.
He blamed the border crisis on an unsecured border and unilateral presidential action that’s “motivated more by politics than sound policy.”
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