Gov. Peter Shumlin has agreed to a request from the White House to investigate whether the state could house some of the undocumented children now being detained in the southwestern part of the country.
The request from the White House is the first step in a very long process.
The initial goal is to determine how much capacity each state has to house some of the nearly 60,000 children who have streamed across the border in the last few weeks.
While some states have indicated an unwillingness to participate in this project, Shumlin says he’s ready to help out.
“What I said to the White House is we’ll do anything that we can to help,” he said.
The administration plans to work with a number of nonprofit groups to gauge the state’s ability to house some of the children.
“We’re obviously asking the right questions; the Red Cross is helping us and we’ll try to get back to them with an answer,” said Shumlin. “Now, whether this would ever happen or not I have no idea. All I can say is as one governor instead of picking on the politics I want to help the kids.”
And if the plan advances, Shumlin says he’d like to see a regional approach developed.
“I was approached by other governors about this who also had a similar call so we would try to make this as much as a regional effort as we could,” said Shumlin. “Obviously, Vermont doesn’t have as much capacity as a Massachusetts for example.”
Meanwhile in Washington, President Obama’s plan to allocate almost $4 billion in emergency crisis relief has developed into a major fight between the House and the Senate.
House Republican leaders want the bill to include significant changes to a 2008 human trafficking law that allows unaccompanied children to get a hearing and legal representation before they can be deported. But Senate Democrats strongly oppose this approach.
Senator Patrick Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Speaking on the Senate floor this week, he said he would oppose any effort to change the law.
“It’s unconscionable to push them through our complicated legal system terrified [and] alone without a lawyer with the ultimate idea they’d be summarily deported back into the very danger that they fled,” said Leahy. “I will vote against anything that allows such a travesty.”
Leahy says the president’s plan will speed up the legal process by adding a lot of new immigration judges to hear these cases.
“We can address the humanitarian crisis without watering down our law,” said Leahy. “We don’t have to turn our backs on our own basic values as Americans.”
Most of the children are from Guatemala and Honduras. Leahy says Congress should consider cutting off aid to these countries if they don’t address the violent conditions that are causing many children to flee to the United States.