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Few details from feds about 5 unaccompanied minors sent to Alaska from border

Sean Doogan
Demonstrators hold signs outside of the immigration court in San Antonio, Texas, in support of undocumented immigrants, including a surge of children from Central America, on July 2, 2014. Hector Becerra/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell is unsatisfied with the federal response to his questions about five unaccompanied minors who had crossed the border separating the U.S. from Mexico and were sent to Alaska this year.

"Governor Parnell will be writing to the president to express strong concern over the lack of federal transparency for actions that have likely financial impacts on states, including the State of Alaska. (Education, public health, social services, etc.)," Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow wrote in an email to Alaska Dispatch News.

The children came to Parnell's attention after he read an article published by the conservative news/blog Breitbart on Friday. A short time later, Parnell took to social media to say that his administration would "get to the bottom" of the issue.

But, like many media outlets, social service organizations and state officials, Parnell has found few answers from the federal agency tasked with overseeing the more than 60,000 unaccompanied children who have been taken into custody at a U.S. border crossing this year. According to the Administration for Children and Families -- a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- most of the children are from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Their care costs the U.S. government about $868 million per year, according to data from DHS.

Five children have been flown to Alaska since January. Their ages and countries of origin have not been released to the media or the state. Despite the lack of information from the federal officers tasked with their care, the children haven't been just dropped off in Alaska by chance, according to Susan Bomalaski, director of Anchorage Catholic Social Services -- one of the organizations that cares for and helps immigrant and refugee families arriving in the state.

"They would not send those kids here without some family supports in place," Bomalaski said. "I would say we should welcome them into the community."

According to the Administration for Children and Families, when unaccompanied minors show up at a border crossing or are apprehended by border patrol agents, they are temporarily housed at one of three U.S. locations until family members or other sponsors can be found. Bomalaski believes that all five children sent to Alaska this year were brought here because they have relatives living here, though she admits her office has also received little information about the children and can't say for certain that's the case.

Still, Bomalaski said, the U.S. cannot just turn away children when it finds them trying to enter the country without permission.

"It's being politicized," Bomalaski said. "The kids need to be taken care of, and depending on their situation some of them will be sent back (to their home countries)."

What will happen to the five children sent to Alaska is unclear. Neither Parnell's office nor Alaska Dispatch News has been able to determine where the minors were placed, if they will attend local schools, or if the children will need social service support. According to DHS, the children's sponsors are responsible for all future immigration issues -- the government stops tracking them after they have been placed with family in the U.S.

With only five unaccompanied minors being sent to the state in 2014, Alaska is among the states with the fewest children arriving from the border; Texas has gotten the most this year, with 4,280 minors placed in that state. Despite the low Alaska number, Parnell's office claimed the issue is an important one for the state because more could be sent here. And according to the governor's office, the federal government has no plans to inform state officials when they might arrive in Alaska. 

“Recently in a White House briefing of governors, White House staff indicated governors would be notified before any large group of immigrants would be sent their state," Leighow wrote. "Our office has received no such notification from any federal agency."

The issue has generated controversy in other states -- including in California, where last month angry protesters turned back busloads of immigrants headed for a Border Patrol facility near San Diego.

Contact Sean Doogan at sean@alaskadispatch.com.