July 23, 2014


Gov. Terry Branstad told The Carroll Daily Times Herald his counterpart in Nebraska is on the right track with a demand to the federal government for identifying details on the unaccompanied, undocumented children who crossed the nation's borders, most from Central America, in the last year and ended up in Nebraska.

But if Branstad finds out who the kids are, where they are located in Iowa, he's not aware of any state action that could be taken.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which coordinates the care of undocumented immigrant minors as their cases move through the system, has confirmed that 139 children have been released from Jan. 1 to July 18 to Iowa families, according to The Des Moines Register. More than 200 such kids have come to Nebraska since October

Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska sent a letter to HHS officials seeking the names of the children and the names of their Nebraska sponsors, as well as addresses and immigration status information.

"It seems like a reasonable thing that the governor of the state, the people in authority, should be able to know," Branstad said during an interview with The Daily Times Herald Tuesday night near the end of a fundraising event in rural Carroll. "I don't understand why there's all this secrecy."

Branstad is concerned that federal officials don't ask whether the host families for the children are in the United States legally or not.

The kids in Iowa and Nebraska are part of a wave of more than 50,000 immigrants without documentation - or parents coming with them - to enter the United States since October. Most are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, nations ridden by narcotics trafficking and violence. The episode has spurred fierce global debate over whether the children should be considered refugees.

Branstad said he thinks Iowa officials should have the information Heineman is seeking for his state.

"I don't know that we could do anything with it, but I just feel that this is not the way the government of the United States should operate," Branstad said. "We are a nation of laws. And I think the thing that disturbs me is that we are not abiding by the rule of law. If that is not changed soon, I think we could become overrun by people that figure they can come here from anywhere in the world and there's going to be no consequences. And we can't possibly accommodate everybody from all over the world."

Branstad strongly challenged analogies between the plight of the Latino children and refugees from Southeast Asia a generation ago whom Branstad's predecessor Gov. Robert Ray accepted and worked tirelessly to integrate into Iowa in the wake of the Vietnam War.

"There's a big difference between what happened in the '70s and now, and this is they came here legally, and in most cases, they came as intact families," Branstad said. "What we have going right now is a failure of the administration to protect the border."

Branstad said he is outraged by what he described as a lack of communication from the White House on the situation.

"I find out through the Omaha World-Herald," Branstad said. "There's no transparency, there's no openness, they never told us. This is not the way the government of the United States should run."