Elected officials in two states far from the U.S.-Mexico border have claimed that the Obama administration has resettled hundreds of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children without adequate notice and has refused to detail the exact locations where the children are being kept.
Fox News has learned that 748 unaccompanied minors have been transferred from areas near the border to the Chicago area. Of the original group of 748 kids, 319 have been placed with family members or sponsors while they await an immigration hearing. The other 429 have been placed in facilities run by the Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit organization that receives grants from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., told Fox News Friday that he did not know the exact locations of the facilities where the children were being kept, and stated his belief that the White House did not want the children's living conditions to be made public.
"My worry is the administration doesn’t want people to know what the condition of these place are or how these kids are being treated in detention," Kirk said. "Kids can sometimes to be pretty cruel to each other, they don’t want those stories to get out and they don’t want us to know what is going on in these detention facilities. These detention facilities should be completely open to the press and to the American people so that we know how what conditions are, we should be able to talk to the kids who are there.
"I can’t explain the incompetence of the Obama administration," Kirk said later. "This is a tremendous self-inflicted political wound ... This narrative, [that] this is Obama’s Katrina, [is] sticking really hard."
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman told the Wall Street Journal Saturday that 200 children were sent to his state without warning, and added that federal officials had refused to give him their names and locations.
"Governors and mayors have the right to know when the federal government is transporting a large group of individuals, in this case illegal immigrants, into your state," Heineman, a Republican, told The Journal. "We need to know who they are, and so far, they are saying they're not going to give us that information."
A White House official told the Journal that the Nebraska children were all being held with family and sponsors pending the outcome of immigration proceedings, and none were placed at a central facility. The official also told the paper that while some of the children arrived in the U.S. during the recent border surge, others crossed earlier in the year.
Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Will Jenkins told The Journal that HHS is required by law to keep the personal information of unaccompanied children confidential.
The Journal also reported Saturday that the White House has reached out to other states asking if they had any "big facilities" suitable for housing large numbers of unaccompanied children. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, said his state was one of those approached, and told The Journal that the U.S. "should take a hard look at ... what we can do to be sure that as these kids get sent back they're going back to places that are going to be safer."
"This looks like permanent resettlement in the United States," Kirk told Fox News Friday, "which only encourage more people to join the 'coyotes', or the criminal trafficking networks.
Federal law requires that illegal immigrant children from countries other than Canada and Mexico have their cases heard in immigration courts, which can take years to resolve a case. In the meantime, the minors are permitted to stay in the U.S.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and Garrett Tenney contributed to this report.