Two Kansas lawmakers are asking for more clarity on the legal status of and facilities for unaccompanied children being housed in Kansas after attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and Rep. John Alcala, both Democrats from Topeka, held a press conference this morning asking The Villages, the agency with which the government has contracted to hold the children, for more information about who is being held at the facility and their legal status.
The Villages provides services for “children in need,” and has contracts with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Corrections Juvenile Services.
Alcala said he tried to arrange a tour of the facility in Topeka this week, but the organization has not yet allowed him to come in.
“I toured the facility about a decade ago. It was a fine facility then, and we just asked that we would be able to come in and tour the facility, see the living conditions, what they look like today, and maybe visit with some of the administration and ask them a few questions,” Alcala said.
“They told us that the only way we could come in, we would have to fill out a form, it would take two weeks to get approved, and even then there was no guarantee that we could come into the facility.”
Alcala said that while he was trying to get access, the organization posted several “no trespassing” signs around the facility. He said it used to be an open facility, but that policy has changed since the organization secured its contract with the federal government.
Alcala said he has a list of questions he would like answered.
“It’s real simple. What are the conditions of the facility? Who’s accountable? What’s the plan to reunite these children with their parents? What’s the plan to get the unaccompanieds out of detention and with family? And who’s making the money off this? Simple questions that should be answered, that should be transparent to the public.”
“This is inhumane. You read between the lines, politics is being played with these children’s lives,” Alcala said.
It was unclear why Alcala called it inhumane, when he had just said it was a “fine facility,” or why it was suddenly urgent that he be allowed inside. It was also unclear what he was reading between the lines, or how politics was being played, or what the purpose of the press conference was.
The number of migrant children being held in Kansas is unclear, but The Villages’ government contract allows it to hold 50. The Villages is the only facility in Kansas where migrant children are being housed.
Hensley said he submitted the form to visit the facility — required by federal regulations — yesterday, so the earliest he’d be able to tour the facility is July 5. He said The Villages is a youth residential center licensed by the state of Kansas and the facility has performed well in the past, so he believes the migrant children being held there now are being treated well.
Colyer issued a statement saying “While this is a federal program that the state does not manage or have control over, the Kansas Department of Children and Families will be conducting an inspection to ensure The Villages remains in line with state standards and procedures. Our hope is that these children are returned to their families as soon as possible.”
Late Friday, a Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) licensing staff member visited The Villages to ensure the safety and well-being of the children placed at the facility and issued this statement: “From our visit, the children seem to be adjusting well, and are having their needs met. While DCF licenses The Villages facilities, our agency has no direct oversight of the federal government’s contract with The Villages, which started in February 2017. Additionally, this afternoon, Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel reached out to the executive director of The Villages to discuss the well-being of the children and the program in general and was satisfied that they are being provided excellent service in their time of need.”
Kendall Marr, spokesman for Gov. Colyer, said the state government in Kansas had no role in implementing the federal immigration policy regarding these migrant children. The Kansas Department for Children and Families did contact The Villages to offer placement of children in the facility, he said.
- kcur.org and other wire services