Leggett: ‘We need to do what is right’ -- Gazette.Net


Unaccompanied immigrant children reaching the U.S. border with Mexico have a history of being placed in Montgomery County and County Executive Isiah Leggett said Tuesday the county is willing to welcome more.

“My view is, these are minors. We need to do what is compassionate, what is right, what is moral, what is ethical and we’re going to do that,” Leggett said. “We would not want to turn kids away, especially in times of great need and trauma in their lives and I’m not going to do that.”

Leggett (D) said Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) has approached him about Montgomery County aiding in the crisis and the county is willing to help.

Leggett said the county is already helping unaccompanied immigrant children.

To understand the situation, the County Council held a briefing Tuesday afternoon with public agencies and nonprofits that serve the children.

Unaccompanied immigrant children often come across the border to escape violence, abuse or persecution in their home countries, while others come to live with relatives, or are brought into the U.S. by human trafficking rings, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The children who live in Montgomery County were likely either placed by the federal government in a shelter or with relatives who live in the county, or they entered the country under the government’s radar and reunited with family, said Uma Ahluwalia, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.

More than 52,000 children have crossed the border this year, according to reports in The Washington Post, and the county is bracing for more.

“We have seen a steady increase and it is a little unclear how big a spike we are going to end up seeing,” Ahluwalia said.

Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools enrolled 107 unaccompanied minors, the vast majority of whom were high school students, said Chrisandra A. Richardson, associate superintendent of the Office of Special Education and Student Services.

Those students came to the county through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, she said, which generally places children with family or relatives, referred to as sponsors.

Ahluwalia said officials are trying to establish a per capita cost estimate for the care and services required by each child.

If more children arrive, Ahluwalia said, the county will need additional support because the families who sponsor the children often turn to the local government, schools and communities for resources and services.

Council President Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said the council will hold a more in-depth discussion of the issue this fall.