Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that state officials have been kept in the dark about the immigrant children being placed in North Carolina, and he demanded more information – and work toward a solution – from federal officials.
Close to 1,200 children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border during the first six months of this year have been placed with sponsors – many times relatives – in North Carolina, and the governor said he expects that number to increase "fairly dramatically" when July numbers come in. Already, the state has seen twice the number of immigrant children as it does in an average year, he said.
"This is not just a border issue any longer," McCrory said at a news conference, where he was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos, Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry and Division of Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry.
"If the numbers continue to increase at this rate, if could have a severe impact on the current resources that we have to take care of North Carolina children," McCrory said.
The state has received no information about the immigrant children other than the number who are in North Carolina, he said. So, officials don't know if they pose any public health risks because of lack of immunizations or individual medical needs or if the children could be endangered by being placed in abusive situations.
"We're not in the loop," he said. "At a minimum, we want to know who they are, where they're going and who their sponsors are."
Although the federal government insists that background checks have been done on the children's sponsors, McCrory said he doesn't believe that to be the case, noting the time and money involved in conducting thorough checks. He said many of the sponsors are likely in the U.S. illegally themselves.
"Questions are being asked, but a thorough review is not being done," he said.
Returning the children to their home countries also poses problems, McCrory said, noting U.S. immigration courts are backlogged – the court in Charlotte has a 257-day waiting period – and fewer than half of the children will even show up for their hearing, based on previous data.
"The likelihood of these kids returning home is very rare," he said.
The governor urged President Barack Obama and Congress to cut short their vacations and return to Washington, D.C., to craft a solution to the flood of unaccompanied children streaming across the border from Mexico and into states such as North Carolina.
"I'm worried about these children," he said.
El Pueblo, a nonprofit advocacy group for Latinos in the Triangle, characterized McCrory's news conference as grandstanding and said his statements are misguided.
"Gov. McCrory is sending a clear message that immigrants, even children who are fleeing violence, are unwelcome in North Carolina,” Angeline Echeverría, executive director of El Pueblo, said in a statement. “Instead of presenting proactive strategies for effective immigrant integration, the governor continues to waste state resources by focusing his time and energy on this media campaign to criticize federal authorities. The governor should work to ensure that all children who come to North Carolina, regardless of their immigration status, have the opportunity to grow up in safe, healthy communities.”