Some of the minors crossing the U.S. border sent to Florida for housing

Matt Dixon 7:51 PM, Jul 22, 2014
47 mins ago

A Border Patrol agent with Alejandro, 8, who traveled by himself across the Rio Grande. Border Patrol agents process a group of 22 migrants from Honduras and Guatemala including an 8-year-old boy during routine U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations in the Rincon region of the Rio Grande River between the Hidalgo International Bridge and the Anzalduas International Bridge near McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney)


NAPLES, Fla. - TALLAHASSEE — At least 36 unaccompanied minors who are among the thousands pouring across the U.S.-Mexico border are headed to Florida, a fact that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was unaware of until contacted Tuesday by the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau.

Administration officials say the federal government has not communicated with them about minors coming from border states, which is the “problem.”

The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has spiked since October, with roughly 60,000 being apprehended by federal border patrol agents since then, according to the Pew Research Center.

Many are fleeing South American countries to escape gang violence and poverty.

Of those, 12 unaccompanied minors will stay with families in Brevard County; another 24 will stay in Broward County group homes, according to Heather Morgan, director of communications and marketing for the Children’s Home Society of Florida.

“The children will be in our care for only about 30 days,” said Morgan, whose group worked with the federal government to help place the children.

Children’s Home Society of Florida received $91 million in government money in 2013, according to its tax filing, which includes money from the state in the form of service contracts.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said the children will stay with the “sponsors” while they “await immigration proceedings.”

He wouldn’t confirm the total number of unaccompanied minors coming to Florida or where they are staying, citing safety concerns.

On Friday, Surgeon Gen. Frank Farmer, the state’s top health official, sent a letter to HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for, among various requests, advance notice when minors are being sent to Florida and if there are any health concerns.

Nathan Dunn, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, said Tuesday the federal government hasn’t responded to that letter and the state wasn’t aware of the unaccompanied minors already coming to the state.

“We have not received any official notification by the federal authorities and that’s the problem,” he said. “The federal government doesn’t notify the state when unaccompanied minors are routed to Florida.”

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Cheryl Little, an attorney with Americans for Immigrant Justice, was confused by the Scott administration’s concerns about the border crossings. She said the federal government has long housed youth crossing the border, including 200 in a Miami shelter.

HHS said there have been reports of “pneumonia and influenza” with a group of minors housed at Naval Base Ventura County in California.

“Federal health officials note these cases of possible respiratory illness likely pose little or no risk to the general population,” Wolfe said.

The issue has emerged as a political flashpoint with November’s midterm elections approaching.

Some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have called for the unaccompanied minors to be returned to their home countries, while others say it’s inhumane to send children to countries where their lives could be in danger.

President Barack Obama has requested $3.7 billion to help stem the flow of minors coming across the border, a plan congressional Republicans have balked at as too expensive. They have called for tougher immigration laws and stressed that those fleeing violence can already seek asylum.