Arkansas Grapples with Future of Immigrant Children

Published 08/05 2014 04:59AM

Updated 08/05 2014 05:01AM

LITTLE ROCK, AR -- With thousands of migrant children crossing the U.S. border illegally, one lawmaker is asking how Arkansas will be impacted.

There are already 166 of these children living in Arkansas.

It's an issue that one senator says communities statewide should prepare for.

Republican Senator Bart Hester -- from Cave Springs -- sent the governor a letter asking for more information on immigrant children coming to Arkansas.

He says his concern isn't about the small number of children who moved here this year so far, but what happens when that numbers grows.

Terry Trevino-Richard with the League of United Latin American Citizens says gang and drug violence dominates Honduras and El Salvador, forcing parents to make difficult decisions when it comes to their families.

He said, "When you know your child has no future here, that there's a greater chance they'll wind up in a gang or wind up being killed, you will send your child to a place that is safe."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 166 immigrant children -- in Arkansas -- stay with sponsors.

In most cases, those sponsors are family members.

But Senator Bart Hester says the state needs to prepare for an even larger number.

He said, "You have to have a game plan when the number is this small, to be able to survive when the number is big."

That's why Hester sent a letter to the governor.

He says he's concerned about health and safety issues when the immigrant numbers reach into the thousands.

He said, "If we're not going to secure the borders, we have to prepare in Arkansas for refugees continuing to come north."

Governor Spokesman Matt DeCample says Arkansas hasn't received much information on housing immigrant children and he says they've heard nothing of a large number of illegal immigrants moving to the natural state.

But, he says right now Washington is taking the lead on this issue.

DeCample said, "It's all being done from the federal end and at the end of the day it's a federal responsibility."

But Senator Hester remains on edge about what's coming down the road and the lack of preparation.

He would like to see the discussion on immigration -- in Arkansas -- continue.

He's also talking about the possibility of state legislative hearings to answer questions about children being relocated here.

Meanwhile, Trevino-Richard says a couple of Little Rock churches approached him, saying they would be more than willing to open their buildings for children with no where else to stay.

(KARK, Little Rock)

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