MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WALA) – A pressing topic hit the state of Alabama Thursday, July 24, causing controversy across the state.
Alabama could soon house hundreds, or possibly thousands, of illegal immigrant children coming from Central America.
The U.S. federal government has put Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery on a list, along with five other military bases in the U.S., that could make it the next safe haven for the children.
Bases in California, Oklahoma, and Texas are already housing thousands of immigrant children seeking refuge from extreme conditions of gang violence and starvation.
Governor Robert Bentley has already voiced his opposition for the measure. This week, he wrote a letter to President Barack Obama voicing his concerns on the issue.
The letter read in part:
“We are concerned that there will be significant numbers who will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states… we are concerned that the failure to return the unaccompanied children will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border.”
However, activists in Alabama said the state should welcome these children with open arms, as they have turned themselves in at the border as refugees seeking help.
“It’s afforded by law that these kids have a right in front of a judge to assess their status as refugees or asylees in the U.S., and that’s what the 2008 law says,” explained Kyle Tharp with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
He urged Alabamians to keep an open mind if the children do come to Maxwell Air Force Base.
“We think, as a coalition, now more than ever, these kids really need support and stability while they wait to be reunified with their family members or their relatives. You know, this issue really transcends politics and it’s just about taking care of a bunch of kids,” Tharp told FOX10 News, “They’re in a really rough spot right now.”
Meanwhile, some locals in Montgomery worry the immigrants will cause unwarranted stress on the already tight funds of the state.
“Look at the children, think about them first, and then think that it could cost money that the state doesn’t have,” said Ed Lee, a Montgomery resident.
But, Tharp assured that state taxpayer money will not go toward funding the immigrant children if they came to Maxwell, as the children would be staying on federal Air Force base land, and would be overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is a federal agency.
Federal figures report that 407 undocumented children have already been placed with sponsors in Alabama until they can be reunited with their U.S.-based families, or until they are sent back to their home country.
Illegal immigrant children will not be sent to Maxwell Air Force Base until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has signed off on it as an appropriate location to house them.
FOX10 News will report more details as updates become available from state and federal officials.