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Georgia governor, Atlanta mayor take differing stands on housing migrant kids

By Kevin Bohn, CNN Senior Producer
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • State and city officials debate handling of unaccompanied minors crossing U.S. border
  • In Georgia, governor and Atlanta mayor send conflicting messages
  • Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel expressed willingness to house kids

(CNN) -- The argument between government leaders over how to handle and where to house the influx of migrant children from Central America is playing out across a couple of blocks in downtown Atlanta.

At the gold-domed state Capitol, Gov. Nathan Deal is complaining that the Obama administration didn't tell officials it was sending more than 1,000 children to Georgia. At Atlanta City Hall, Mayor Kasim Reed says his city would provide a "safe haven" for the children.

Can we REALLY secure the border?

More than 50,000 unaccompanied children have been detained so far this year as they've tried to cross the U.S. southern border. Federal authorities say the rate of apprehension has slowed in recent weeks.

The Department of Health and Human Services is charged with finding suitable facilities to house the children while they wait for an immigration hearing or to be reunited with family.

Some state and local governments, community organizations and churches across the country have taken children in but some governments are asking not to be considered as a landing place for the kids.

Or in Deal's case, complaining about not being told about it.

Republican Deal wrote to President Barack Obama last week asking for the federal government to stem the flow of the children to the state saying it was "unconscionable that your administration" failed to inform state officials that 1,154 of the kids had been sent there.

"Your administration continues to send refugees to Georgia, while at the same time many mayors and legislators from across the political spectrum have expressed their (and my) desire to reign in the influx of refugees to the state of Georgia. It is my hope that you and your administration will respect this request," Deal said in his letter.

Reed's position was the opposite, saying Tuesday the minors would be welcomed in his city.

"I'm going to send a message in no uncertain terms to the extent that these children need a safe place, and a safe haven, (and) the city of Atlanta is going to be that," the mayor told reporters, according to CNN affiliate WSB.

Deal softened his tone on Wednesday after meeting with a group of local Hispanic leaders. He said in a statement that he asked them for guidance and advice about how the state should respond and added the activists told him they thought most of the children in Georgia were placed with relatives.

"For the state to safeguard these children who are here now, we still need more information about their federal status and where they're staying. It goes without saying, these situations involve our public education, public health and public safety resources, and I'm concerned about additional burdens being placed on local taxpayers in Georgia," Deal said.

"But I made this pledge to the group: As a state we will let the federal process work. And during the time it takes to accomplish that, I'm sure Georgians will show their compassion toward these children who have undergone harrowing circumstances."

Deal's complaint was similar to one by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who said his state discovered the presence of migrant minors there through an online posting by HHS.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration said over the weekend it's willing to house up to 1,000 children in city facilities.

"The influx of unaccompanied child migrants is a growing humanitarian crisis that we can no longer ignore," Emanuel said Sunday in a statement. "While we have our own challenges at home, we cannot turn our backs on children that are fleeing dangerous conditions. We will do our part to ensure that these children are given access to services and treated fairly and humanely."

Rep. Luis GutiƩrrez, D-Illinois, a major proponent of immigration reform and someone who has strongly opposed calls for deporting the children after they are arrested, said he is proud to see Chicago "lead by example" in trying to find housing for some of the minors.

"Sometimes the greatness of our nation and our city are tested and how we treat children in danger is one of those tests," GutiƩrrez said in a statement.

Earlier this month Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, another major Democratic supporter of the President, proposed two locations in the Bay State to temporarily house undocumented immigrant children, including a federal base on Cape Cod. That proposal has generated a controversy among some Massachusetts residents.

These offers follow a dust-up between another Democratic ally, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and the White House over the issue.

O'Malley, who had criticized plans to deport many of the undocumented children, clashed with a senior White House official in a phone call after he asked some of the kids not be sent to a site in his state.

"What I said was that would not be the most inviting site in Maryland," O'Malley told CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. "There are already hundreds of kids already located throughout Maryland."

O'Malley was referring to his phone conversation with White House Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Munoz. O'Malley also told CNN he was open to housing them in other sites in the state.

White House mulls steps on immigration it can take on its own

Central American leaders to Obama: We're working on it

CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this story.

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