DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday it is “outlandish” that undocumented children are being placed in Iowa without any notification to state officials by the federal government.
Branstad said he has a lot of questions but no answers from the Obama administration in the wake of revelations this week that at least 139 Central American minors who have crossed the U.S. border illegally have been placed with sponsors in Iowa since Jan. 1.
“It’s disappointing that the administration has not been transparent or open with governors or human services departments across the country,” Branstad told reporters Wednesday. “I think it’s outlandish that the federal government is being secretive about what they’re doing and how our tax money is being spent.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he supports legislation to require federal officials to provide advance notification to governors when illegal children are going to be housed in their states. He said, however, that would not give governors authority to refuse or block entry for unaccompanied immigrant minors.
“From a public health standpoint, state treasury standpoint, obligations of state laws, governors ought to know about it,” Grassley told Iowa reporters on a conference call, noting there are cost implications associated with providing care for children seeking refuge from poverty and violence.
Grassley said it is reasonable for governors to be informed about a situation so they can determine if public health requirements are being met, check the conditions of the homes where children are being located and gauge potential social service costs associated with any placements.
"We could be paying as much as $250 or sometimes $1,000 a day to take care of these kids. Don't you have some responsibility to make sure you spend the taxpayers' money wisely," he said. "The public's business ought to be public."
Branstad said he supports Grassley’s proposal, reiterating his consternation that Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, made no mention of the ongoing placements during a recent meeting of the National Governors Association in Tennessee.
“First of all, they failed to secure the border,” Branstad said. "Secondly, children have been placed without our knowledge in the state. I want to get these questions answered.
"We’re going to ask those questions. We need to get answers: who they’ve been placed with, why, what is their situation, are they still here, have they gone somewhere else? We don’t know. We’ve just gotten vague answers, and we believe the people of Iowa, the taxpayers, deserve to get more information.”
Thousands of minors have been detained by U.S. border patrol agents for crossing from Mexico to the United States without proper authorization, many coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Joe Enriquez Henry, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, confirmed Tuesday that Latinos living in Iowa have driven to the Mexican border to be reunited with family members who they have transported back to the state.