Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks to the Federalist Society, a non-profit group of attorneys, law students and public officials, in Indianapolis on Friday, June 13, 2014. / Matt Detrich, The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama, urging that the 245 unaccompanied Central American children living in Indiana "be returned expeditiously to their home countries to be reunited with their families."
Pence also criticized the federal government for not providing more timely information about children being sent to states after they crossed the U.S. border alone and undocumented, a failing that Pence called unacceptable.
"While we feel deep compassion for these children, our country must secure its borders and provide for a legal and orderly immigration process," Pence wrote.
He joins governors from other states, including Maine, Mississippi and Tennessee, in complaining about the government's placement of unaccompanied children in states without notifying them.
The Washington Post reported that the Republican governors of Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin signed a letter asking Obama to deport the unaccompanied children to discourage others from crossing the border.
But in other states, such as Maryland and Massachusetts, governors have vowed to help find temporary homes for immigrant children.
The Obama administration has been struggling to deal with a flood of more than 57,000 immigrant children traveling alone since last October. Department of Health and Human Services officials have said most of the children are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Many of the children report that they are fleeing gang violence. The government has resorted to temporarily housing the children in makeshift warehouses, prompting health and safety concerns. Meanwhile, busloads of children have been shipped to cities across the country. Protesters have turned away buses in some communities.
In his letter, Pence said the government did not notify Indiana of the 245 unaccompanied children who have been placed with Hoosier families until after media reports were published.
He expressed concerns over the state shouldering education costs for the unaccompanied children. He formally requested "real-time updates" of arrivals and departures of the unaccompanied children placed in Indiana, as well as information on the legal statuses and the locations of their sponsors.
Republican state Sen. Brent Steele earlier drew rebukes from both Republican and Democratic colleagues when he wrote a letter to constituents saying he had asked "if any illegal aliens have been dumped in our state."
Tuesday, Steele said in a statement, "I think the governor hit the nail on the head."
Pence was also supported by Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican, who said in a statement: "The best way to stop this humanitarian crisis is to reunite the children who have come to America with their families in their home countries. Doing so will deter more children from making the dangerous journey to the United States."
Some Democratic leaders shared Pence's desire for more timely information. But state Sen. Tim Lanane said he worried about rushing to return children to dangerous places.
"I would hope that we would be governed by what's in their best interest or how safe it is for them to be returned," Lanane said. "It's my understanding that many of these children are being sent here out of the genuine fear for their safety in their home countries in Central America."
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, questioned "why we in Indiana are being so inhumane about this issue of children who are here because they want to live. They want to feel secure and safe."
Pence has often differed with conservatives in his own party on immigration issues. While in Congress, he faced backlash for a proposal to create a temporary guest worker program.
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