COMMACK, N.Y. - (AP) – A Long Island church has abandoned a proposal to play host to some of the tens of thousands of immigrant children illegally crossing the United States' border with Mexico to reunite with family.
The Rev. Dennis Walker, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Commack, told Newsday on Monday the church had dropped the plan, which had sparked outrage in the neighborhood.
Lutheran church leaders in Manhattan told Newsday that the church missed a deadline to apply for the federally funded program to temporarily house immigrants. They said it was unlikely the proposal would become reality in the next few years.
"It's very unrealistic to see it happening in the short term," said Rev. Marc Herbst, a top assistant to the bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod-Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Herbst also said Walker is retiring next year and that an interim pastor, who would only hold the post for a year, wouldn't provide stable leadership needed for the immigrant housing program.
Walker had said the church would be able to pay off debts and create jobs if it took in about 40 children. But neighbors said the plan, details of which hadn't been released or approved, would be dangerous.
"I'm not prejudiced, don't get me wrong, but you know what, we have our own problems with our own people here," Jerry Baggetta, a retiree who spoke on the front porch of his home just up the street from the church property, told The Associated Press recently. "What are we going to have to do? Live like prisoners and lock our doors and everything else?"
About 63,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, entered the U.S. from October to July, double the number from the same period a year earlier. Many have said they are fleeing violence in their home countries. Once children are processed by the Border Patrol, they are placed in the custody of the government's Office of Refugee Resettlement. They stay at federal government shelters until they reunite with family members in the U.S. or move to longer-term foster care to await immigration court.
U.S. cities and towns have been asked to identify facilities where children can be temporarily housed. The federal government will cover the cost of preparing, operating and staffing them.
Federal data show New York has received 3,347 of the children this year, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's Administration for Children and Families.