Unaccompanied migrant children who entered the United States illegally through Mexico are not being sheltered at S.C. facilities or military bases – and there are no plans to bring them here.
That is according to a letter Gov. Nikki Haley wrote Thursday to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, thanking him for an update on the nation’s border crisis.
Haley spoke to Johnson Wednesday, after news media reported migrant children from the border crisis were rumored to be in the state, sparking plans for protests.
In the letter, Haley said she finds comfort in South Carolina not being used as a “mass shelter.”
But Haley criticized what she called a “humanitarian crisis” at the border that “highlights the failure of the federal government to adequately perform its most basic and crucial function — securing the (nation’s) sovereignty.”
“As long as our border remains dangerously unsecure,” Haley said, adding, “and the policy of the United States government is to accommodate those who cross into our nation illegally for an indefinite period of time, the incentives for such migration will continue to exist.”
As a mother, Republican Haley said finds it “disturbing” that the migrant children would be left “to fend for themselves” as they attempt to cross the border.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s Democratic rival in her bid for a second term in November, was unavailable for comment late Thursday.
Group plans protests
Unconvinced of the federal government’s assurances, a Raleigh, N.C.-based anti-immigration group has organized protests Saturday across South Carolina in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Florence and Myrtle Beach.
“We're having protests at over 300 locations across the country to bring attention to the (President Barack) Obama-inspired illegal immigrant surge,” said William Gheen, founder of Americans for Legal Immigration, which targets lawmakers who support immigration reform.
Earlier this year, Gheen unsuccessfully attempted to sway voters against voting for Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the S.C. GOP primary.
Gheen said he hopes the public can identify buses transporting undocumented children so they can be stopped.
A Winthrop poll from April 2013 found that three of four South Carolinians favored immigration reforms that offer a pathway to citizenship.
But that was before this year’s crisis on the border.
That “humanitarian” crisis will not dissuade pro-reform businesses and industries from pushing for legislative action, said Shell Suber, with the pro-immigration Partnership for a New American Economy.
“If lawmakers had listened to these industries calling for immigration reform years ago, we would be in a considerably better situation than we are right now to deal with this situation,” he said. “If this crisis on the border illustrates anything, it's that you ought to be prepared.”
Of the more than 51,000 youths caught entering the country illegally since October, more than 46,000 have been discharged from federal custody, said Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Most of the children have been released to U.S. sponsors, many family members. More than 50,000 children are awaiting the outcome of immigration hearings, Wolfe said.
Most of the children are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The influx of Central American children into the country has prompted the Department of Health and Human Services to open temporary shelters, including at military and naval bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma.
‘People ... have a right to know’
In her letter, Haley asked Johnson to notify her personally if the federal government changes its plans and decides to bring migrant children to South Carolina.
“It is my firm belief that the people of South Carolina have the right to know exactly who the federal government is placing within our borders,” Haley wrote.
Haley also referenced her own immigrant parents in the letter.
“As the daughter of immigrants who came to this country legally more than four decades ago, the idea that immigration has played a central role in the development of America into the greatest, strongest nation in the world has been a permanent fixture of my life,” Haley wrote, urging Johnson to use all the resources at his disposal to secure the border.
McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed.
Reach Self at (803)771-8658. Reach Cope at (803)771-8657