NASHVILLE, Tenn.—In a sign of the far-reaching impact of the U.S. immigration crisis and its political fallout, Nebraska’s governor says 200 children who entered the country illegally were sent to his state this week without warning and that federal officials are refusing to identify them or their locations.
Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, said federal officials also wouldn’t answer questions about public school attendance by the children and the potential costs to taxpayers.
“Governors and mayors have the right to know when the federal government is transporting a large group of individuals, in this case illegal immigrants, into your state,” Mr. Heineman told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Saturday. “We need to know who they are, and so far, they are saying they’re not going to give us that information.”
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An Obama administration official on Saturday said the Central American children now in Nebraska aren’t at a facility but are being housed with family members and sponsors while they await immigration proceedings. Some of the children arrived in the recent border surge, while others came earlier in the year.
Mr. Heineman’s complaint comes at a time when the federal government is contending with protests against the placement of illegal-immigrant children in other communities. Protesters in Murrieta, Calif., north of San Diego, have turned away buses carrying migrants, mostly women and children from Central America, to a U.S. Border Patrol station.
The immigrant children are part of a deluge of tens of thousands of minors fleeing strife in Central America, a situation leading President Barack Obama to ask Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds. More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border into the U.S. during the first nine months of the fiscal year that began in October, and officials expect the total to reach 90,000 by the autumn.
The border crossings are a top concern among state officials gathered here for a National Governors Association meeting and a reminder, they say, that Congress’s failure to overhaul immigration laws puts heavy burdens on the states.
Mr. Heineman said he raised the issue privately with Vice President Joe Biden after Mr. Biden spoke on Friday to the governors association. Mr. Biden’s office declined to comment on Saturday.
The Republican Governors Association is alerting members about the transfer of children to Nebraska, highlighting the issue at a time when Mr. Obama is already facing criticism for failing to visit the border during a fundraising trip last week to Texas.
“There are concerns that this type of activity—placing children in locations across the country—is occurring throughout the United States, and information is not being shared appropriately with states,” the Republican Governors Association policy director, Marie Thomas Sanderson, wrote in an email to members on Friday and viewed by the Journal.
Will Jenkins, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the immigrant children, said the health and human services department is required to protect the privacy of unaccompanied children and keep their personal information confidential.
“Federal law requires that HHS feed, shelter and provide medical care for unaccompanied children until it is able to place them in safe settings with family members or sponsors while they await immigration proceedings,” he said in a written statement. “These family members and sponsors live in many states, including Nebraska.”
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, said his state received a letter from the Obama administration in recent weeks asking if there were any “big facilities” that could house some of the people crossing the border. He said his state doesn’t have such a facility and that he is open to working with faith-based groups to find suitable housing.
The governors’ views of the federal response to the immigration crisis largely break down along party lines, with Republicans blaming Mr. Obama for failing to control the border and Democrats pointing the finger at House Republicans who have blocked an overhaul of immigration law that passed the Senate last year and included money for border security.
Mr. Markell said the U.S. has a responsibility not to ship the children to perilous conditions back home after they’ve fled violence in Central America. “If you send these kids back, it’s an incredible problem for them and, depending on what happens to them, something that will always be on our conscience,” Mr. Markell said. “One of the things that we should take a hard look at is what we can do to be sure that as these kids get sent back they’re going back to places that are going to be safer.”
Mr. Markell’s position is shared by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat weighing a presidential bid in 2016. “We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death,” he said on Friday.
Mr. Obama has pledged to send migrant children who don’t qualify to stay back to their home counties, but federal law requires those who cross alone from countries other than Mexico and Canada to have their cases heard in the immigration courts, which can take years. Meanwhile, they can stay in the U.S., usually with relatives.
Gov. Heineman on Saturday said, “I agree with the president, they should humanely and expeditiously be sent back to their country of origin.”
Some children have been temporarily placed at Fort Sill, a U.S. Army post in Oklahoma, said Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican serving as chairwoman of the NGA. She said the children should be treated humanely but that she is worried about costs and whether the U.S. is sending misleading signals that coming to the U.S. illegally doesn’t carry risks or penalties.
“My personal opinion as the governor of Oklahoma is that the United States is not a place that allows just anyone to come across the border without going through the legal process, and we need to work on securing our borders of the United States as quickly as possible,” she said. “If it’s that easy for a six-year-old or a 12-year-old to be able come across the border, who else is coming across the border of the United States?”