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Gov. Ricketts rejects request to house migrant children in Nebraska

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Washington, D.C., might be awash with politicians quick to cast blame on one side or the other, but experts say we are forgetting the real victims of the crisis who are the unaccompanied children at the U.S. and Mexican border. Interviews with legal experts and activists about the situation and the impact it is having on the children in detention centers waiting to be united with their families.

LINCOLN — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday rejected a request from the Biden administration to house displaced migrant children in the state.

Ricketts’ rejection comes five days after a fellow Republican, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, announced a similar denial. Both governors said it was Democratic President Joe Biden’s “problem,” and he should deal with it.

“President Biden has created an immigration crisis on our border with thousands of unaccompanied migrant children coming to our country without their parents or family,” Ricketts said. “Nebraska is declining their request because we are reserving our resources for serving our kids.”

“I do not want our kids harmed as the result of President Biden’s bad policies,” the Nebraska governor added.

Last month, the U.S. government picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border. It’s the largest monthly number ever recorded, though Biden has said there have been similar surges in the past during the early spring.

“Sponsors” for the children, usually parents or close relatives already living in the U.S., are sought so the children can live with them while pursuing asylum cases in heavily backlogged federal immigration courts.

The huge increase in the number of children traveling alone — some as young as 3 — and families has severely strained border holding facilities, which aren’t supposed to hold people for more than three days but often do. It’s left the government scrambling to find space and hire staff to care for children longer term until they can be placed with sponsors.

Lazaro Arturo Spindola, executive director of the Nebraska Latino American Commission, said Tuesday that unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. dates back to the 1960s, when more than 14,000 children from Cuba came to the country via “Peter Pan” flights.

Spindola said the governor’s announcement “basically lacks a logical reason and humanity,” and repeats talking points of the Republican Party.

An official with Nebraska Appleseed, a Lincoln-based advocacy organization for the poor and immigrants, said the border surge was “cyclical” and is a crisis not for the U.S., but for the children and families seeking safety.

“We have the capacity and knowledge to coordinate an effective humanitarian response. The United States is capable of welcoming with dignity children, families, and adults seeking safety,” said Darcy Tromanhauser, immigrants and communities program director at Nebraska Appleseed.

Ricketts said that the Biden administration should work with Central American governments to “reunite the children with their families in their home countries instead of pursuing the risky strategy of scattering them across the United States.”

When asked what harm would come to Nebraska’s children, Ricketts provided this statement to The World-Herald:

“Nebraska is not positioned to provide the proper supports relative to the necessary trauma-informed care, wraparound services and housing that displaced migrant children would need,” he said. “Taking on this crisis, which was created by President Biden, would also shift Nebraska’s focus away from managing our foster care system and Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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