211 more unaccompanied immigrant children, teens placed in Georgia

The federal government placed 211 unaccompanied immigrant children and teens in the care of sponsors living in Georgia last month, bringing the state's total to 1,623 for this year, updated federal figures show.

Georgia still ranks ninth among states for the total number of children brought here, according to an online report by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is involved in caring for the children. That matches Georgia’s ninth place ranking among states for its total population — at 9.9 million.

Texas ranks first with 6,217 of the children followed by New York, 4,799; California, 4,680; Florida, 4,392; Maryland, 3,248; Virginia, 3,193; New Jersey, 2,171; and North Carolina, 1,648. In all, 43,419 of the juveniles have been placed in the care of sponsors nationwide since the beginning of the year.

In Georgia, DeKalb County has received the highest number of children at 386, according to the federal report, which provides figures only for counties that have received 50 or more of the children. DeKalb is followed by Gwinnett at 314; Cobb, 164; Hall, 101; Cherokee, 80; and Fulton, 73.

Most of the children are coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, Central American countries wracked with poverty and gang violence. Federal law prevents the government from immediately deporting them. Instead, authorities are sheltering them until they can be released to the care of sponsors, who are usually relatives. Meanwhile, the children undergo deportation proceedings in federal immigration courts, where they can seek relief to remain in the U.S.

The flood of children has created a humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, clogged the Atlanta Immigration Court and slightly increased enrollment in some Georgia school systems.

The surge has also reignited the debate over immigration in Congress and in Georgia. In July, Gov. Nathan Deal sent an angry letter to President Barack Obama, pressing for more information about the children and the services they will need in Georgia. Deal said Georgia has received a "disproportionate number of refugee placements over the past few years."

The Republican governor, who is locked in a tough reelection battle with Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, later softened his tone while attending a State Capitol meeting with Hispanic community leaders. Deal issued a statement after the meeting, saying: “We will show compassion, follow rule of law.”

“I’m concerned about additional burdens being placed on local taxpayers in Georgia,” he said. “But I made this pledge to the group: As a state we will let the federal process work. And during the time it takes to accomplish that, I’m sure Georgians will show their compassion toward these children who have undergone harrowing circumstances.”

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