(Updated 6 p.m.) When he returns from the border, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal would like to sit down with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to offer his firsthand insight on the situation and discuss ways Connecticut can play a constructive role in immigration reform.
Blumenthal traveled to the Texas-Mexico border Friday with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. They visited the local border patrol center where immigrants are being held.
The senator said he hoped to find solutions for a situation he described as “heart wrenching.”
“Hundreds of children sleep on concrete floors without blankets, where they are kept in cells for possibly days,” Blumenthal said.
Earlier this month, the Malloy administration denied the federal government’s request to house some of the thousands of illegal immigrants fleeing Central America.
“I look forward to sitting down with the governor and his administration so I can give him the insight that I have gained,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said he would like to hear the governor’s concerns and offer his insight based on his visit to the border.
At an unrelated event Friday, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, said she hasn’t spoken to the governor, but hopes the state can offer to help these children.
“It is my hope that Connecticut is going to participate in trying to deal with this,” DeLauro said. We have a humanitarian crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis, so I’m hopeful that Connecticut will be engaged in participating and in helping to provide assistance here.”
But Malloy’s administration has been pretty adamant that it doesn’t believe the state owns a building that fits the federal government’s request.
Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, told the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on Friday that the state doesn’t have a suitable location for the children based on the criteria provided by the federal government. The caucus sent a letter to Malloy Thursday urging him to find space.
“The request for assistance was quite narrow,” Ojakian wrote in his response to the caucus. “Among other requirements, the agencies were seeking facilities that contained no less than 90,000 square feet of open space, which needed to be ready and available for immediate use. The facilities also needed to be ADA and NEPA compliant, with additional outside space as needed for trailers that hold showers, restrooms, and kitchens.”
It was initially thought that the Southbury Training School, which houses developmentally disabled adults, may fit the criteria, but Ojakian said a review of the property found that’s not the case.
“All vacant properties owned by the State were found to be either far too small to accommodate the needs of GSA and HHS, were not ADA or NEPA compliant, and/or they contained mold, asbestos, lead, or other serious problems which would require extensive renovation before they could be occupied (especially by children),” Ojakian wrote.
He said the Department of Children and Families is working with the federal government to coordinate “where possible, the temporary placements of individual unaccompanied minors who have family relations in Connecticut.”
Some Latino advocacy groups have said there are more than 30 immigrant children who fled their country staying with relatives in Connecticut.
Meanwhile, on the border Friday, Blumenthal spoke to some of the immigrant children at various holding facilities, where he was able to hear their stories.
“Many of these children were put on buses and trains by relatives to reach this country and escape horrific conditions of torture and abuse,” Blumenthal said.
Most of the stories center around criminal cartels and gangs that put these children at risk, according to Blumenthal.
“I am seeking to think through what solutions there can be to help address the needs of every child with fairness and due process,” Blumenthal said.
For one, Blumenthal would like to formulate specific measures that will help to bring law enforcement to these countries in turmoil.
“These countries need to eliminate the criminal operations that inhumanely exploit and brutalize children,” Blumenthal said.
He would also like to see more resources such as food, shelter, and recreation brought to the immigrants in the holding facilities.
Christine Stuart and Mary O’Leary of the New Haven Register contributed to this report.