Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal still hasn’t received additional details from the federal government on the nearly 1,300 unaccompanied immigrant children living with sponsors in Louisiana.
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement released figures this week that show 533 of them are living in Jefferson Parish, while Orleans and East Baton Rouge parishes have received 237 and 173, respectively. Sponsors in Lafayette Parish have taken in 51.
That answers one of Jindal’s questions, outlined in a letter to the federal government last month.
But the Governor’s Office still wants to know more about the sponsors the children are living with, the timeline for determining their ultimate status and whether the federal government is going to pay anything toward their education and health care costs here.
“We have not yet received a response from the federal government on our request for more information regarding the immigrant children placed in Louisiana,” Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates said in an email.
Kenneth J. Wolfe, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, previously told The Advocate that Jindal “will receive a reply to his letter as soon as possible.”
Wolfe didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Advocate for an update on the timeline Thursday.
Jindal, a Republican who is term-limited and weighing a run for president, traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border last month to get a closer look at the nation’s immigration crisis. There, he said, he observed at least three groups of people presumably attempting to cross the border illegally.
Jindal repeatedly has criticized the federal government’s response to the immigration crisis and blamed President Barack Obama for the conditions that led to the influx and a failure to secure the U.S. border. Jindal also has blasted the Obama administration for the lack of information provided to the state on the children now living here.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children — mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — have been caught illegally crossing into the United States since October, according to immigration officials. More than 37,000 of them have been released to sponsors — usually family members — across the country.
Jindal has said the thousands of children who are coming to the United States alone from Central America should be sent back to their home countries to be with their families.
But advocacy groups argue that many of them are fleeing violence and looking for sanctuary in the United States.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge recently started the Louisiana Esperanza Project, which received initial pledges of $310,000 over the next four years, to help unaccompanied immigrant children seeking protection in the United States.
“The stories we hear about their experiences and what they may have to return to is nothing we should send anyone into and, speaking as a parent, especially a child,” CCDBR Executive Director David Aguillard said.
To illustrate the situation, CCDBR provided the stories of two unnamed immigrant children who are now living with their mothers in Baton Rouge and attending local schools after they were caught crossing the border illegally.
According to the organization, one boy was arrested by Honduran police and beaten at age 11 because his father was suspected of a crime. He was targeted by gangs after his release. He eventually fled to the border and turned himself in to U.S. authorities, who reunited him with his mother in Baton Rouge in February.
A girl now living in Baton Rouge was kidnapped on her way to the border at age 17, according to the second account provided by CCDBR. The girl’s mother paid $4,000 to the kidnappers, but she wasn’t released. She eventually escaped and sought out U.S. authorities on the border, who helped reunite her with her mother here.
The Louisiana Esperanza Project will provide legal representation for the unaccompanied immigrant children as courts consider whether they can stay in the U.S. According to CCDBR, the funds will go toward expanding its legal team, as well as recruiting and training pro bono attorneys to handle Louisiana custody and federal immigration law issues.
“Catholics particularly should help these children,” Aguillard said. “Immigrant Catholics were at one time unwelcome in our nation and considered a threat to our way of life. Such intolerance is just as wrong today as it was last century.”