Feds relocate 4 illegal child immigrants to V.I.

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ST. THOMAS - Among the 30,340 children who immigrated to the United States illegally and have been distributed by the federal government, four have been sent to reside in the Virgin Islands while the highly charged political issue of what to do with all of the children plays out.

However, the federal government is refusing to release much information about where the children are in the territory, who is sponsoring them or the status of their living conditions, and even the local agency tasked with children's social welfare is not being told much.

It also is unclear why the government decided to send children to the territory at all.

The four children who have found a temporary home in the U.S. Virgin Islands fall under the responsibility of the Office of Refugee Resettlement's Administration for Children and Families. The children arrived between the first of the year and July.

"We don't know anything about this," said V.I. Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch.

The department is the "agency of record" that usually handles cases when children are fostered or placed in homes or shelters anywhere within the territory.

In this case, though, Finch said he has heard nothing from the federal government about the four children, and he conjectured that it could be a rumor.

However, Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, confirmed Wednesday that the territory has four unaccompanied illegal immigrant children within its boundaries.

Other states, according to a state-by-state placement record of the thousands of children who recently have been at the center of a political battle over illegal immigration, revealed that the Virgin Islands are not the only distant location where the children have been placed.

Alaska received five children and Hawaii received eight. Other states with more resources, and closer in proximity to the borders of the mainland United States, received hundreds, and sometimes thousands of children.

Texas has the most children, with 4,280 unaccompanied children, and Florida and California have nearly 3,200 each. Montana had only one child, the fewest of all the states.

All states are on the list, along with the territory and Washington, D.C.; however, Puerto Rico is not on the list.

"Unaccompanied alien children" have made headlines especially in recent months since the number of unaccompanied children in the U.S. has skyrocketed.

The children are defined as unaccompanied alien children if they are unlawful immigrants, they are not yet 18 years old and they have no parent or legal guardian in the states able to provide care or physical custody of the children.

The children's numbers have risen to about 60,000 in Fiscal Year 2014, more than double what it was in FY 2013 - 24,700. In FY 2012, the number of unaccompanied alien children was about 13,600.

Prior to FY 2012, the average number of unaccompanied children each year was 6,775 between 2003 and 2011, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In 2013, 37 percent of the children were from Guatemala; 30 percent were from Honduras; 26 percent were from El Salvador; 2 percent were from Ecuador; and 3 percent were from Mexico. Another 3 percent were from other places.

Under an anti-trafficking statute adopted with bipartisan Congressional support in 2008, children from Central America cannot be deported immediately and must be given a court hearing before they are deported. Mexican children caught crossing the border are sent back almost immediately.

Of the children who arrived in FY 2013, 73 percent were boys, and 24 percent of the children were younger than 14.

After their arrival in the states, usually by way of crossing the country's Southwestern border with Mexico, the children are placed in shelters around the country until they can be released to a sponsor, ideally a relative, who can care for the child while their immigration case is processed, according to federal officials.

According to the U.S. government, all potential sponsors go through background checks, and steps are taken to verify a potential sponsor's identity and relationship to the child. In some cases where concerns are raised, a home study is done.

Before children are released to a sponsor, they receive vaccinations and medical screenings, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The office does not release any children who have contagious conditions.

The sponsor also must agree to cooperate with all immigration proceedings.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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