Update: Mayor Kasim Reed has issued a full statement outlining his position on unaccompanied immigrant children. Please see below for the release in its entirety.
Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday Atlanta has open arms to the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children detained by U.S. authorities after fleeing Central America.
“I would welcome the unaccompanied minors in the City of Atlanta. It’s one of the reasons I established the Welcoming Cities Initiative,” he said, referring to a national program in which local governments engage immigrant populations.
The mayor said the metro region has the second fastest foreign born population by percentage on the Eastern seaboard. He characterized caring for the children a “moral responsibility.”
Reed said he will be briefed on the issue in a conference call Tuesday afternoon. Afterward, he plans to “send a clear signal that the City of Atlanta will do whatever we can do to be accommodating and welcoming to the children,” he said.
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His office repeatedly declined to specify the source of the conference call.
Last week Gov. Nathan Deal sent a scathing letter to the White House over news federal authorities have released more than 1,100 unaccompanied immigrant minors who entered the U.S. illegally to the care of Georgia sponsors. According to the letter, Deal said it was “unconscionable” that President Barack Obama’s administration failed to inform his office that the children had been placed in the state.
Reed said he hadn’t read the governor’s letter, but that the men share different views on the controversial topic.
Deal has said he’s sympathetic to the children’s plight, but is predicting the number of immigrant children coming to Georgia will grow and drive up school costs for the state and local communities.
The mayor was speaking Tuesday at a press conference regarding ways to save for a future infrastructure bond worth up to $250 million, pending voter approval next year.
Reed, who is largely considered one of Georgia’s most prominent Democrats and prolific fundraisers, has pledged his support for Nunn and already campaigned on her behalf.
Asked what advice he would give, the mayor paused.
“Every campaign has ups and downs. You don’t know the quality of your campaign until you’ve been hit,” he said. “They should count this as a hit. And she’s going to be just fine.”
Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres released a fuller version of Reed’s views on the unaccompanied children Wednesday, included here:
“The influx of unaccompanied minors at the border is a humanitarian crisis. These are children with futures so bleak and uncertain in their home countries that it is preferable for them to risk their lives for the mere hope of safety and shelter within our borders. As an international city, and one with a strong tradition of civil and human rights as home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta must lead and do our part to provide humanitarian care for children who are vulnerable while they receive the due process that is required by our laws.
We cannot have open borders, but at the same time, this large influx, and the high rate of asylum claims in surrounding countries in Central America, indicate that there are genuine dangers driving this crisis. The federal government is working hard to place children in settings where they can be cared for by families while they await the opportunity to present their case in a court of law. Just over 1,000 children have been placed in Georgia, where they are with extended family members and federally funded foster families who are providing for their financial needs and care while they await determination of their legal status. Many churches, non-profits, and other citizens are also reaching out with concern and gestures of good will.
This is an emotionally charged issue, but it is at times like these that cities and nations show who they really are. And I know that the people of Atlanta have compassion and goodness in their hearts. That is why we are willing to do our part to care for vulnerable children while their best interests are determined in a manner consistent with the laws of the United States.”
Staff writer Jeremy Redmon contributed to this report.