The push to find homes for hundreds of unaccompanied Central American immigrant children increases as Maryland leaders search to find a solution to the current immigration crisis.
The prevailing thought is that the children are leaving their home country due to the violence they’re forced to endure. For many Central American children, gangs are taking over the streets and the idea of fleeing to the United States seems a better option.
With more than 50,000 immigrant children coming into the United States in less than a year, more pressure is being put on Maryland to house some of them. However, options for shelter spaces are running low as controversy has scrapped some shelter locations in Baltimore City and Westminster.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she is open to the idea of turning vacant federal buildings into shelters, just a day after Gov. Martin O’Malley spoke out against the idea. He supports an expanded foster care network or placing the children in private homes.
Catholic Charities proposed placement of about 50 children in their St. Vincent’s Villa in Baltimore County, saying the housing would be funded through a mix of federal dollars and donations. They would also provide health and educational services for the children.
While there seems to be varying views about the issue, one thing is for sure, and that is a solution for Maryland’s child immigration crisis needs to be found quickly. According to the Health and Human Services Department, between Jan. 1 and July 7 Maryland has taken in 2,205 unaccompanied immigrant children.
On a per capita basis this means that Maryland has more unaccompanied immigrant children who are settled with sponsors than any other state. Administration officials said the reason is based on the high proportion of Maryland residents from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the countries from which most of the immigrant children are fleeing.
Baltimore residents have much to say about the crisis and how the children should be handled.
Kendra Carr can see the changes that are happening in the neighborhood from the recent influx of immigrants and believes the mayor’s idea is not bad.
“If they are going to do something about these vacant [buildings] in Baltimore, then yeah,” said Carr, who’s lived in the city about five years. “If this is their incentive to finally clean up Baltimore and do something with a lot of these vacant properties, then I definitely think it’s a great idea, especially since you don’t want these kids roaming the streets and potentially getting into trouble becoming part of all the crime that is happening here anyway.”
Alnita Sherrill feels it’s the thing to do.
“A lot … have issues with having people that are different from them living in their backyard,” said Sherrill. “To me having immigrants should be allowed, because if we have the space and the ability to house them then why not?”
In regards to expanding the foster care system, Sherrill thinks Mayor Rawlings-Blake should expand the system for all children.
“Well I think it’s a good idea if she does it not only for the sake of the immigrant children who are coming in, but for the sake of the children who are already here,” Sherrill stated. “I’ve come from the system, not personally, but knowing the system, knowing that it’s already overworked and already underserved when it comes to having workers to work with the kids and placement for the children, so it’s already over utilized and the need is great.”
Marilyn Blanding agrees with Sherrill’s sentiment of looking out for Baltimore children as well.
“We have to look out for our own children too because our children need help. The housing is terrible because you can’t find housing for people and we have a terrible homelessness situation going on, but if every, all states participated maybe it wouldn’t be so bad,” said Blanding.
Blanding doesn’t think expanding the foster care system would be a cure-all. “It may not be a full solution to the problem, because our foster care system is booked, overbooked. It’s mainly our Black children who need foster care and I don’t want to boot our Black children out,” she said.
In regards to Catholic Charities helping the immigrant children, Blanding thinks it’s a good idea.
“It may help them. I can see Catholic Charities trying to help them because that’s what they do,” she said. “As long as somebody helps them, not just throw them in a building somewhere and leave them there. If Catholic Charities can do that, then I’m for it. Help them get an education, help them go forth and do whatever it is they need to do to move up. Maybe they can better themselves and go back and take care of their people in their country.”
Howard W. Roberts, coordinator of Urban Youth Ministries within the African American Ministries of The Archdiocese of Baltimore, said Catholic Charities should definitely help.
“I think it’s automatic, it’s a no brainer; we should be doing likewise for all those who are in their most trying time of need and we worked efforts throughout the Archdiocese here to sort of support any way we can,” Roberts said. “It’s only right that we treat those who are likewise coming from other places in the way we would want and in the way I think should be modeled by anybody who professes to be a Christian. We’ll let them sort out the politics later but the first issue is to address their immediate needs and make sure the people feel as safe and welcomed as we would want to be or have been at some point in our history of this country.”
Roberts also gave some more insight as to what the African American Ministries are doing to help provide relief.
“We do a series of efforts as individual churches. We work with about 14 churches out of the office of African American Ministries and those individual churches are a part of all those fundraising efforts,” Roberts said.
While most people seem to think that some type of relief should be provided to immigrant children coming into Maryland, William Richards believes otherwise.
Richards believes that unaccompanied immigrant children “should be at home with their parents.” He also said most immigrants coming into the country are not children, but are “adults and young adults who are in gangs” and are “using the border as an excuse to sneak into the country.” He also believes that we must help our own homeless children and people in Maryland who have issues and need shelter before we help others from outside of the country.
Vera Richards, a resident of D.C., seems to think the opposite by not viewing immigrants coming into the U.S. as a problem.
“The view that immigrants are a problem is isolated to the individuals who believe immigrants are taking ‘what is not theirs to have’. From my knowledge, most immigrants are willing to work 10 times harder than the folks complaining about them. America will only continue being a leading power if we have the people willing to work,” Vera Richards said.
In regards to immigrant children coming into the United States, she said, “I agree that the children should remain in America. They are here to feel safe and be educated. Children are the leaders of the future and as such, America should invest in them. Children should be afforded the opportunity to achieve the ‘American Dream’.” “When it comes to helping, D.C. needs to follow the same guidelines it places on its residents. Provide immigrants with a job and place them on a program so that eventually they become tax paying citizens giving back to the community.”