CTNJ file photo
Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven (CTNJ file photo)

The legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus wrote Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday to ask him to reconsider his decision denying the federal government’s request to house some of the thousands of immigrant children fleeing Central America.

Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said they understand the Southbury Training School, which houses developmentally disabled adults, may not be suitable but urged the governor to find another location in Connecticut.

“While the rhetoric of blame for the current situation of these innocent children rises, we ask you to reconsider your refusal to provide assistance to the federal government in alleviating this humanitarian emergency,” the caucus wrote in their letter to Malloy.

The humanitarian emergency Candelaria is referring to is the crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico, where unaccompanied minors in the tens of thousands have been detained by immigration officials.

“We understand your concerns with the Southbury Training School and do not pretend to minimize them. However, we cannot keep our arms crossed while these detention centers continue to overflow and these children suffer in the direst of conditions through no fault of their own,” the caucus wrote.

Candelaria said this is not a time to be pointing fingers or waiting until Congress can decide whether to consider President Barack Obama’s supplemental request for comprehensive immigration reform. He said these children are here now in the United States and they need help.

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance made a similar request of Malloy in a press release Thursday.

They said Malloy’s decision not to house the children means Connecticut is the only New England state that hasn’t accepted the federal government’s proposal. On Thursday, the Cape Cod Times reported that Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Deval was considering using Camp Edwards as a place to house these children.

“We are disappointed by his actions and demand that he reverse course and seek alternative sites to house these children. This would come at no cost to Connecticut taxpayers — all that would be required is for the governor and his administration to be compassionate and lend a helping hand,” the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance said.

Mike Stroebel, a lease contracting officer with the U.S. General Services Administration, told the state earlier this month that if Connecticut was able to provide a site and approval, “the federal Government will fund the necessary improvements and maintenance of the facilities in the rent paid to Connecticut or by extension OPM.”

The cost to Connecticut for agreeing to make the facility available “would be associated with maintaining the viability of the facilities while in use,” he said.

The Connecticut immigrant Rights Alliance argued that an overwhelming number of Connecticut individuals and religious organizations have reached out to us expressing a desire to house and help these immigrants. In fact, some Connecticut groups already are assisting Central American children, adolescents, and women who have arrived in our state fleeing violence and have cases pending in immigration court.

But the Malloy administration, in email correspondence with the federal government earlier this month, made it clear that it does not have the capacity to help these individuals.

“The vacant property that the State of Connecticut has is too small to accommodate your needs (which clearly must be at least several hundred thousand square feet of building space alone) and typically in a state of disrepair to the point where a certificate of occupancy would be difficult to obtain,” Patrick O’Brien, of the Office of Policy and Management, told the federal government on July 14.  “Indeed, many existing structures are beyond salvage and require environmental remediation and demolition.”

O’Brien goes on to explain that under Connecticut law even if the state had surplus property it wasn’t using it would be forced to make sure no other state agency or municipality was interested in acquiring it. Then, the property would go out to public bid.

“Obviously, our hearts go out to the children in this situation,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Thursday in response to the caucus’ letter. “But we don’t currently have the ability to meet this request. What this really speaks to is the absolute necessity for Congress to pass the President’s emergency supplemental request and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Read more about the experience of a handful of children from Guatemala who made the journey to the United States and are now living with relatives in New Haven.