The following statement was released by U.S. House Representative Dan Kildee of the 5th Congressional District of Michigan. A lifelong Democrat, who succeeded his uncle - Democrat Dale Kildee, one of the longest serving Congressmen in history - in the seat that encompasses Flint: the birthplace of General Motors and long a stronghold of the UAW and other labor unions. His district includes the quaint rural town of Vassar, where in recent days citizens have protested against a plan by the Federal government to house unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors in a juvenile facility operated by Wolverine Human Services.
A July 7 protest outside of the city council chambers drew approximately 100 protesters opposed to the plan. A handful of representatives from Michigan United - a nonprofit pro-immigration group were also present.
On July 9, a townhall meeting was convened at the local high school were more than 300 people heard a presentation from a represntative of Wolverine, who explained that the facility would house 60 to 120 minors in two-week to one-month long stints to then be transferred to family members or back to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Activists on hand at the townhall meeting were appreciative of the information from Wolverine, but remained opposed. One speaker said that blame for the current surge should be place squarely where it belongs: not with Wolverine or local government, but with President Obama and the Federal government.
Here follows Congressman Kildee's statement:
As part of my ongoing conversations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, today I spoke with the director at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who informed my office that as of yesterday, Wolverine Human Services formally applied to be a sub-contractor to house unaccompanied children at their facility in Vassar.
No final decisions have been made by HHS as they continue to review Wolverine’s application as a sub-contractor under a Chicago-based organization, Heartland Alliance. Additionally, many other facilities across the U.S. have sought to provide temporary housing, in addition to Wolverine.
Consistent with federal law, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, the U.S. provides temporary housing for undocumented children seeking asylum until their cases can be adjudicated in the court system. Currently, there are only approximately 240 immigration court judges that hear asylum cases throughout the entire country, each having a caseload of over 1,400 cases.
Simply put, we need additional federal resources to help speed up the processing of these cases. Congress should act swiftly to appropriate more enforcement resources – including immigration judges and asylum officers – to deal with this ongoing humanitarian crisis. Doing so will allow for the swift removal of any undocumented individuals who do not qualify for asylum. Additionally, adjudicating these children’s cases more quickly means that there will be less of a need for potential temporary housing in the U.S.
Over the past week, I have heard from constituents, many of whom are very passionate about this particular issue. It is important to remember that many of these young children are victims of violence – not perpetrators of violence. Many of them have fled their own countries because of the fear of persecution, violence or sexual abuse. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and it has always been a core part of our country’s values to protect those who seek refuge – especially children – from harm.
Finally, this ongoing humanitarian effort should not be conflated with the larger issue of our broken immigration system, which continues to go unaddressed by Congress. In fact, if Congress had acted on comprehensive immigration reform months ago – including addressing the issue of border security – it could have possibly prevented this sudden humanitarian crisis. I cosponsored comprehensive immigration reform last year and have repeatedly urged for an up-or-down vote. It is long past due for us to have a vote on this important matter.”
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