SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is among six Republican governors who penned a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concerns about the administration's handling of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border in recent weeks.
"We are concerned that there will be significant numbers who will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states. More importantly, we are concerned that the failure to return the unaccompanied children will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border. We fear that this will put a significant number of children at risk of abuse and neglect on their journey to the United States," the letter states.
The letter also raises concerns that the unaccompanied minors are being placed with sponsors or relatives "who are undocumented themselves."
"This raises real questions as to whether these children will maintain appropriate contacts with our legal system and will follow necessary procedures designed to protect both them and the American public," the letter states.
Other governors who signed the letter include Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Herbert was part of a discussion on the immigration issue during a recent National Governors Association meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in Nashville. Herbert is vice chairman of the NGA.
While the letter expresses concern over the plight of the children, it also raises pragmatic issues.
"More than 57,000 children have crossed the border since October last year. Reports are that 90,000 children could make the journey by this fall. With no end in sight, we need to have a plan to deal with this crisis in a humanitarian and practical way," the letter states.
A statement from the White House Tuesday noted the average daily apprehensions of unaccompanied minors by the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents has dropped by half from June to July.
"The administration is focused on addressing the immediate and pressing challenges to make sure we are responding in an efficient and timely way, ramping up prosecution efforts against criminal smuggling networks and confronting the root of the problem with top-level diplomatic efforts in Central America," said a statement recapping a call Tuesday between key administration officials and the nation's governors.
The statement also addressed the need for "common sense reform" of the nation's broken immigration system.
Beyond that, officials called on Congress to fund the administration's supplemental request to help address the influx of children and young families on the border.
"If Congress doesn’t act soon, our hardworking border patrol agents and immigration courts won’t have the resources they need to do their jobs and care for and process these children. No action replaces long lasting solutions provided by comprehensive immigration reform and the administration again called on Congress to fix our broken immigration system through common sense reform."
Bonnie L. Peters, executive director of the Family Support Center, said policymakers and mainstream Americans alike must keep in mind that the border crisis involves vulnerable children.
“These are not adults making the decision to take a risk for the chance of a better life. These are little children whose parents sent them off without them understanding where, why or how. And we as humans must try to protect them,” she said.
Peters said the Family Support Center is very concerned over the immediate care that the unaccompanied minors require. States, churches, nonprofit organizations and governments need to play roles in addressing the thousands of undocumented, unaccompanied children in the United States, she said.
"Children could potentially be received on the other side of the border by predatory adults, including human traffickers, drug cartels and other dangerous and abusive figures. Additionally there is the question of disease being spread and the meeting of basic needs," she said.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake, wrote about the issue in the July 18 issue of Intermountain Catholic. His column addresses the issue but was not written as a response to the governors' letter to the president.
"What gets lost in all of the emotion and polemic about the laws broken by the unaccompanied minors being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border is the fact that we are talking about children: all of them under the age of 18, some of them as young as 5; frightened, alone, away from home and now part of a political debate that focuses on the law rather than on these children," Bishop Wester wrote.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been been heavily involved in the humanitarian response to the border crisis, is urging governments to work together to deal with the factors that are caused by this crisis and pushed immigrants to leave their homes, he wrote.
"We ask leaders in all countries to find ways to curb the drug trade, the weapons trafficking and the gangs that cause such fear. In the United States, we ask government leaders to attend to our own immigration system, which both sides of the political aisle agree is broken," he wrote.
The nation's laws must be upheld, he wrote, adding that God's love "transcends all laws."
"The law that I respect the most is the one Christ gave us: Love God with all your heart and all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. That is the ultimate law, and the one that we must fulfill in reaching out to these children."