PHOENIX — Saying illegal immigrant children being bused to Arizona may be being placed in danger, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery warned federal officials today they may be violating state child abuse laws.
In a letter to a top immigration official, Montgomery said he fears that unaccompanied minors are being left at bus stations "without food, water or shelter, or means to acquire same.'' And he cited an Arizona law which prohibits someone who has care or custody of a child from permitting them to be injured or placed in a dangerous situation.
He said that, given the 100-plus degree temperatures, "any federal official who directly engages in such conduct or who authorizes such conduct may be guilty of a Class 4 felony.'' And if that is classified as a dangerous offense, the presumptive prison term is 6 years behind bars.
Montgomery's complaint comes as top officials in the Obama administration admitted earlier today they're not meeting a requirement in federal law to process unaccompanied minors within 72 hours and turn them over to federal health officials.
The officials, speaking with reporters on background, said they had prepared for an increase in illegal immigrants from violence-prone Central American countries. But they said the flood of illegal immigrants, mainly coming through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, was larger than anticipated.
What that means is that children are remaining longer in what essentially is a refurbished warehouse with no indoor plumbing.
One administration official said efforts are underway to provide hot meals and shower facilities, "all kinds of thing to make their life there as comfortable as possible — but with the ultimate goal of trying to move the children as quickly as possible.''
That, however, creates another problem: Administration officials admit that the three facilities being prepared for the children to go at military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma can house perhaps a maximum of 3,000. But hundreds have been arriving daily at Nogales for processing.
Administration officials said the Department of Health and Human Services, which is accepting legal responsibility for these unaccompanied minors, has access to thousands of other beds at existing facilities. But they said that clearly is not a good long-term answer.
What is, they said, is trying to find adult relatives for these children -- even those in this country illegally and awaiting their own deportation proceedings -- or at least foster care families.