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Delegates query McAuliffe on immigrants

Four Prince William-area lawmakers contacted Gov. Terry McAuliffe last week about the issue of unaccompanied immigrant children, but the governor responded that the federal government and a Bristow nonprofit might better address their concerns.

Republican Dels. Jackson Miller and Tim Hugo sent the Democratic governor a letter July 15, seeking details on what it costs the state to provide care for the immigrants, classified as "unaccompanied alien children."

"It has recently come to our attention that HHS has been placing UACs [unaccompanied alien children], for approximately two years, in Prince William County – without full disclosure to local elected officials," the legislators wrote about the federal agency involved, the Department of Health & Human Services.

The delegates were referring to an agreement that the Youth For Tomorrow organization in Bristow has with HHS to provide emergency shelter and care to unaccompanied immigrant children.

Word of the arrangement got out in recent days as news spread about thousands of immigrant children crossing over the U.S.' southern border.

Then the Prince William Board of County Supervisors last week directed County Executive Melissa Peacor to investigate the matter and find out more information, including how many unaccompanied immigrant children are in the locality, how long they will be there and what county services they might need.

Hugo on Thursday also suggested that the supervisors could ask Youth For Tomorrow officials to appear before the board and testify about their relationship with HHS.

Officials with the nonprofit, which was founded by legendary Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, could not be reached for comment.

The lawmaker stressed that Youth For Tomorrow has done a lot of good in the community by helping at-risk young people.

But he said his constituents want to find out more about the immigrant program.

"People just want to know what's going on there," said Hugo, chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

Also, he said that he has to worry about what the matter could cost Virginia taxpayers, which is why he and Miller asked McAuliffe to provide figures on what state monies might be spent on the unaccompanied minors.

Youth For Tomorrow already is due to get $100,000 from the state in each year of the recently approved budget for the next two fiscal years.

That money, however, is not for the immigrant program but rather for "comprehensive residential, education and counseling services to at-risk youth of the Commonwealth of Virginia who have been sexually exploited, including victims of sex trafficking."

In addition to government spending concerns, Hugo said he fears what potentially introducing more immigrant children to an already-crowded public school system could do in Prince William.

"What's this going to mean in September?" he asked.

And, because Medicaid pays for emergency care for immigrants who come to the U.S. illegally, Hugo said he expects that the issue of unaccompanied children will come up when the General Assembly returns to Richmond in a few weeks to discuss expanding the medical program.

Miller was more blunt in his criticism of the Youth For Tomorrow connection with the federal government.

He noted that the U.S. government will pay for any unaccompanied immigrant child placed at Youth For Tomorrow but that state or local authorities would have to foot the bill if an American youngster was put there.

"It's an outrage," said Miller, the majority whip in the House of Delegates.

He also said that other locations around the country – even some that would be considered more liberal politically – have refused to take in unaccompanied immigrant children.

So it's unfair to make Prince William and Manassas shoulder an additional burden after the localities already have provided government services for many immigrants through the school system and other agencies, Miller said.

"It's kind of a slap in the face," he said.

This latest turn of events could be seen as having reignited a local illegal immigration debate that had seemed to somewhat peter out.

But Miller said it wasn't so much that anyone felt differently than before.

Instead, he said, it's more that critics of immigrants coming to America without permission feel "defeated" by the Obama administration, which seems "tone-deaf" to those who disagree with it on the issue.

Federal law requires that HHS feed, shelter and provide medical care for unaccompanied children until it can place them in a safe setting with family members or a sponsor while they await an immigration proceeding, agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in an email.

So HHS was running shelters throughout the country for such children for years before the recent throngs came to the border, Wolfe said.

His email didn't address Youth For Tomorrow specifically, but it said that the impact of shelters for immigrant children on a local community is "minimal."

"Children spend less than 30 days on average at the shelters and do not integrate into the local community," Wolfe said. "They remain under staff supervision at all times."

Prince William Del. Bob Marshall followed the letter of Hugo and Miller with one of his own July 16.

The western Prince William Republican asked McAuliffe to identify Virginians "qualified to act as administrative judges to assist federal immigration officials in determining the status of those who entered the U.S. through our southern border without authority."

These could be retired or substitute judges, magistrates, or qualified and experienced lawyers, Marshall wrote.

Deferring the determination of immigrants' legal status places a strain on state and local resources, so immigration cases should be handled quickly, the lawmaker wrote.

Then, the next day, Del. Scott Lingamfelter sent a third letter to McAuliffe.

The Woodbridge Republican wrote that, as chairman of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, he was worried that criminals would try to infiltrate the U.S.' border with Mexico by hiding among immigrant children.

"While we are both concerned about the safety of the children who have entered the United States illegally, we must also be concerned with the possibility that criminal gangs and the drug cartels will use the crisis to exploit and enlarge their unlawful activities throughout the nation," Lingamfelter wrote.

McAuliffe responded Monday with a single letter to Hugo, Miller, Marshall and Lingamfelter.

The governor wrote that the state is not a party to the arrangement between Youth For Tomorrow and HHS and isn't responsible for any related costs.

Virginia hasn't facilitated the program or even been asked to do so, McAuliffe wrote.

And, though he indicated concern that information about the program wasn't shared with elected officials earlier, he wrote that, "as a private organization, Youth For Tomorrow is at liberty to establish this arrangement with the federal government and serve these children according to its stated mission and all applicable laws."
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