Feds: Atlanta area counties received hundreds of immigrant children

DeKalb County has become the top destination in Georgia for unaccompanied immigrant children and teenagers who are being apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border, a new federal report shows.

During the first seven months of this year, federal authorities placed 347 of the boys and girls in the care of sponsors in DeKalb. Gwinnett County has received the second highest number in Georgia at 266 followed by Cobb County, 138; Hall County, 85; Cherokee County, 65; and Fulton County, 64.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department recently posted the county-by-county report on its website. Listing only counties that have received 50 or more of the juveniles, the report covers 126 counties nationwide and includes 29,890 of the 37,477 children and teens who have been released to sponsors in the U.S. as of July 31. The federal agency said it would update the county numbers each month.

Texas’ Harris County – a suburb of Houston – ranks first with 2,866. Los Angeles County, Calif., has received the second highest amount at 1,993.

Tens of thousands of children and teenagers have streamed across the southwest border in recent months, fleeing poverty and gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The surge of children has become a humanitarian crisis on the border and a flash point in both the congressional debate over immigration and in the gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter.

Georgia ranks ninth among states for the number of children and teens it has received this year at 1,412. That matches Georgia’s ninth place ranking among states for its total population — at 9.9 million. Texas ranks first with 5,280 of the children, followed by New York, 4,244; California, 3,909; Florida, 3,809; Virginia, 2,856; Maryland, 2,804; New Jersey, 1,877; and North Carolina, 1,429.

Deal sent an angry letter to President Barack Obama last month, asking for more information about the process used to send the children to Georgia. He also inquired about their immigration status and the services they will need from the state.

A 2008 anti-human trafficking law — signed by President George W. Bush — prevents the government from immediately deporting the Central American children. Instead, the government is required to feed, shelter and provide medical care to 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 in Georgia and other states, where they can seek relief to stay in the U.S.

The federal government has declined to identify the children or say precisely where they are being placed in Georgia and the other states, citing privacy reasons.

Health and Human Services “is engaging with state officials to address concerns they may have about the care or impact of unaccompanied children in their states,” the federal agency says in its online report, “while making sure the children are treated humanely and consistent with the law as they go through immigration court proceedings that will determine whether they will be removed and repatriated, or qualify for some form of relief.”

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