2843 1 4 LINKEDIN 182 COMMENTMORE

Indiana residents have accepted more than 200 of the unaccompanied Central American children who have recently shown up on the U.S. border — creating confusion among state officials and stoking passions on the immigration issue.

State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, criticized President Barack Obama's immigration policies Thursday, and caused a mixup when he sent out an email to constituents claiming no "illegal aliens have been dumped in our state."

Steele cited the office of Gov. Mike Pence as his source. Christy Denault, a spokeswoman for Pence, clarified that the federal government pledged to notify Indiana if it intends to set up a "detention center" here.

So far, no such facilities have been established in Indiana, but some children have been sent here to live with "sponsors" while they go through deportation proceedings. The sponsors often are relatives or family friends.

Update: Pence to Obama: Reunite kids crossing border with their families

Shortly after Steele's email was sent, the Associated Press reported that new federal government data indicated that Indiana sponsors have received 245 of the more than 30,000 children released to sponsors this year through July 7.

In at least one other state, Mississippi, the governor criticized the federal government for placing children with sponsors without notifying state officials, according to the Associated Press.

Denault said she couldn't verify the accuracy of the federal data, published Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. The situation is fluid, she said, and the state could be notified at any time about children coming here.

Steele's written comments Thursday drew sharp criticism from two of his colleagues in the legislature.

"That's offensive — the word 'dump' is offensive," said Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse. "It's a bad choice of words."

"Where is our humanity?" said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary. "I am kind of disappointed in Senator Steele."

In a phone interview Thursday, Steele dismissed such criticism.

"Oh, to hell with people," he said. "They're being too damned sensitive."

His use of the word "dump" was intended to be an indictment of how the federal government has treated the recent flood of immigrant children, he said.

"I think our federal government has treated them like trash, frankly," he said. "As long as Obama does it, it seems to be OK. It's not OK with me. I worry about these kids."

Steele stopped short of saying the children should not be allowed in Indiana, saying only that he consulted the governor's office because it's an issue his constituents care about.

"Assuming they're not rejected and turned away as they have been in some states, we have to figure out some way to pay for it and not get blindsided," he said.

Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, said adult sponsors are responsible for financially supporting children placed in their care and providing for their physical and mental well-being.

The sponsors, he said, also must ensure the children appear at all future immigration proceedings and report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation if a judge rules they must leave.

Under federal law, Wolfe said, the government has to place children in the least restrictive setting that's in the best interest of the child, without regard to the immigration status of the parent or other sponsor.

During the previous nine months ending in June, Wolfe said 96 percent of all minors released from the "unaccompanied alien children" program have been placed with sponsors.

After learning of the 245 children sponsored by Indiana residents, Steele recognized there is no way state government could know when individuals or private groups agree to host the children.

"I just hope," he said, "they are getting with somebody that cares about them."

Steele added, though, he is concerned that many more children could be coming and that each state might get some of them.

"I don't know what the answer is. That's way above my pay grade," he said. "But if we're going to invite them in, we should have done a better job of planning. It's more humane to turn them away at the border than treat them the way they are being treated."

The Obama administration has been struggling to deal with a flood of more than 57,000 immigrant children traveling alone since Oct. 1. DHHS officials have said most of the children are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Many of the children report they are fleeing gang violence. The government has resorted to temporarily housing the children in makeshift warehouses, prompting health and safety concerns. Meanwhile, busloads of children have been shipped to cities across the country. Protesters have turned away buses destined for facilities in some communities.

"I feel sorry for these kids," said Kubacki, who is Hispanic. "The most humane thing to do is make sure these kids get their shots and send them back to their parents and say you were lied to, do not send your kids here."

Here's Steele's letter in full:

To My Constituents:

In view of what has been happening to our country of late, I've asked the Office of the Governor if any illegal aliens have been dumped in our state.

The Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs immediately answered my request for information and advised me that as of this date, we haven't been notified that we are a potential selected state to house these illegal aliens.

Apparently the Feds notify a state before it is selected, and as of today, the State of Indiana has not been notified.

It is understood that this fact could change and Indiana is constantly monitoring the situation. I have asked to be immediately informed if we receive such a notice.

Sincerely,

Brent Steele

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Call Star reporter Tony Cook at (317) 444-6081. Follow him on Twitter: @indystartony.

2843 1 4 LINKEDIN 182 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://indy.st/1rFGXdY