Arkansas Lawmaker Asks About Undocumented Immigrant Children In State

Staff Writer
Fort Smith Times Record

LITTLE ROCK — A state legislator said Friday he wants answers about the placement in Arkansas of unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, sent a letter to Gov. Mike Beebe asking whether the federal government has placed undocumented immigrant children in Arkansas, and if so, how many. He also asked what steps are being taken to secure the locations in terms of safety and public health and what contact the state has had with the federal government on the issue.

Hester said the people of Arkansas deserve answers to the questions because “the situation at our southern border is not only a security crisis, but also a humanitarian and health crisis for both the children who are crossing and for the states receiving them.”

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Friday the Office of Refugee Resettlement has said it has placed 166 children — who at this point have not been officially classified as refugees — with sponsor families in Arkansas this year.

The office, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has said that the sponsor families underwent background checks and the children were vaccinated and medically cleared before any placements occurred.

“We have heard no discussions of any placement centers being established in Arkansas. We haven’t even heard of the possibility of it,” DeCample said.

DeCample said the federal government did not notify state officials before placing the children in Arkansas.

“One thing that we would like to see is some better communication between HHS and our state agencies, particularly of course (the Department of Human Services) and the Health Department,” he said. “We understand that those lines of communication are opening up more.”

Hester also said in his letter that he expects legislative committee meetings to be held in the coming weeks to discuss “the crisis at our southern border and how it is affecting our state.”