SALT LAKE CITY — Sixty-seven unaccompanied children apprehended by immigration officials after crossing the U.S.-Mexican border were placed with sponsors in Utah between Jan. 1 and July 7.
Gov. Gary Herbert received an email from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the unaccompanied minors over the holiday weekend.
"We found out about it officially on Monday," said Marty Carpenter, the governor's communications director.
The email contained no details about the individuals or the people who are sponsoring them, Carpenter said. Health and Human Services provided no details about the children's physical health or their educational attainment, he said.
"Where did these 67 go? Are they all going to show up at one elementary school? Are they spread across the Wasatch Front?" Carpenter asked Wednesday.
The governor's office has great concern for the children in the state and the humanitarian crisis at the border, he said.
"Once you move past that, there are signficant questions that governors find themselves in a position that they'll have to address. Obviously that varies by the number of people placed in the state, but there are health issues (and) there are education issues," Carpenter said.
Herbert was among six GOP governors who sent a letter to President Obama last week expressing concerns over the administration's handling of the border crisis.
"The point the governor made when he signed on to a letter with other governors last week was basically we've been told to stay out of immigration issues. It's a federal issue. But when the federal government doesn't handle the issue, doesn't address the issue, doesn't solve any of the problems, they end up being being left for the states to solve and to fund those solutions," Carpenter said.
While 67 children were placed with sponsors in Utah between Jan. 1 and July 7, other states have received thousands of unaccompanied minors, according to data from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.
New York, Florida and California each received more than 3,000 unaccompanied children during that window, while Texas had 4,280. Every state has some children, ranging from thousands to just one in Montana.
Sponsors are "typically a parent or relative," according to the federal refugee office. A total of 30,340 children have been placed with sponsors in each U.S. state and the Virgin Islands.
Nic Dunn, public information officer for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said the children who are temporarily housed in Utah while their immigration cases are processed are not authorized to be in the United States and therefore not eligible for public assistance except for emergency Medicaid.
Dunn said the department had not received any federal grant money to house or take care of the children living with sponsors in Utah.
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said he was aware of some children who are living with sponsors in Utah.
"I know some have been released to family, when they have family members and such," Yapias said.
Sponsors sign an agreement to ensure that the children attend their immigration hearings.
Sister Veronica Fajardo of Holy Cross Ministries' immigration office, said immigration advocates and attorneys have long worked with unaccompanied youths entering the United States.
"For us working in immigration, this is not a new event. What is new is the numbers that are coming from Latin America, and they're coming to the border directly here in the United States," she said.
While the recent crush of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has received a great deal of national media attention, Fajardo said other Central American countries and Mexico have likewise received thousands of unaccompanied children.
"I know people from Honduras are going to Nicaragua in great numbers. They're trying to go to Costa Rica," she said.
Parents in living in countries overrun by gangs in Central America are dealing with impossible choices over what to do to ensure their children's safety, Fajardo said.
"They have two choices: death or an opportunity to live," she said.