Casey, Wolf press feds for details on immigrant children

Marc Levy
Associated Press

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey pressed the Trump administration Tuesday for information about immigrant children being held in the state, separated from their families at the border after entering the country illegally.

More than 100 people gather for the Families Belong Together Rally in Continental Square in York City, Saturday, June 30, 2018. The peaceful protest is one of hundreds of events taking place nationwide in opposition of family separation and internment camps that have become the result of government policy on immigrants and refugees caught illegally crossing the boarder between the U.S. and Mexico. Dawn J. Sagert

In a letter sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Wolf and Casey, both Democrats, asked for answers on how many unaccompanied immigrant children are being held in Pennsylvania, where precisely they are living and what plans there are to reunite them with their parents.

The state, they wrote, is legally required to inspect facilities that house the children and they want to ensure that immigrant children detained in Pennsylvania without their families are receiving the care required under state law.

Wolf’s administration said it asked the questions once already, on June 26, to the acting regional administrator for the department’s Administration for Children and Families.

Casey’s office said the Trump administration told senators that approximately 24 migrant children were being held in Pennsylvania, as of June 26.

In addition, Wolf and Casey asked in the Tuesday letter whether the Health and Human Services Department knows precisely where the children’s parents or guardians are, which facilities contracted to hold the children and how the department is safeguarding their well-being.

Wolf and Casey say they oppose the practice of detaining families of asylum-seekers and separating migrant children from their parents.

The department did not immediately respond to a request for answers Tuesday.

Casey signed a separate letter Monday to Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen with 10 other Democratic senators asking for details about efforts to reunify migrant parents and children who were being held separately.

Casey and Wolf did not invite Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to join their letter. Toomey’s office said he considers the welfare of the children to be critically important and supports legislation that enforces the law and keeps families together while their immigration cases are being resolved.

Toomey’s office said it has communicated with federal agencies on the matter and awaits “more information beyond what is already publicly available.”

Wolf, in the meantime, is under fire from immigrant rights activists to shut down a Berks County facility that is one of three family detention centers in the United States that hold children and parents who are seeking asylum or entered the country illegally. The low-security facility north of Philadelphia is run by the county through a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and residents there are federal detainees.

Wolf’s office said he has done everything in his power to revoke the license from the Berks County Residential Center and that he has urged the Trump administration to shut it down in favor of community-based services.

However, Wolf’s office said that, regardless of any state action, the federal government will continue to operate the facility because it is run under a contract with Berks County.

Wolf’s office said his Department of Human Services, which inspects the facility, has not found grounds to issue an emergency removal order and, in any case, the courts must agree that the residents must be moved.