TOPEKA — House and Senate Democrats applied a partisan spin to holding at a Topeka facility the children of illegal immigrants by demanding Friday that Gov. Jeff Colyer disclose information about the welfare of the children and by asserting their relocation to Kansas was tied to the Republican campaign for governor.
Children as young as 6 years of age swept up in the President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration are being housed at The Villages, the legislators said. The Villages entered into a contract with the federal government to care for up to 50 unaccompanied individuals 6 to 18 years of age. The contract began prior to imposition of the Trump administration policy dividing parents from their kids at the border.
"The Villages has a long and commendable record of serving children in need. Let us understand The Villages is now playing a role with the federal government in having the fate of these children in their hands,” said Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka.
Alcala said the GOP primary campaign involving Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading critic of illegal immigration into the United States, prompted the governor to cooperate with the Trump administration on movement of the children to Topeka. Both candidates are attempting to appeal to supporters of Trump.
"This is inhumane. You read between the lines, politics is being played with these children's lives," Alcala said.
Kendall Marr, spokesman for Colyer, said the state government in Kansas had no role in implementing the federal immigration policy regarding these migrant children. The Kansas Department for Children and Families did contact The Villages to inquire about placement of children in the facility, he said.
"Assertion the governor's done this to please Trump is completely untrue," Marr said.
The Trump administration's policy requiring the separation of parents from their children at the border was rescinded Wednesday by executive order, but the fate of children already displaced hasn't been resolved.
Colyer's office issued a statement Friday on behalf of the governor that said he stood behind Trump, endorsed the executive order "ending the policy of separating children from their families" and hoped the children would be reunited with their parents as soon as possible. The governor's office also said DCF would conduct an inspection of The Villages to determine whether it remained in compliance with state standards.
Asked during a news conference at the Capitol why state legislators would enter the fray, Alcala said it was a humanitarian issue that was of concern to his constituents. "Who gives a s--- what the state's authority is," he said. "Are those kids being cared for?"
It appears Topeka is the only location in Kansas to be caring for children seized under the Trump administration's separation policy. In all, about 2,300 unaccompanied children were placed under federal control since April.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said legislators requested permission Thursday to tour The Villages facility and check on the welfare of the children. Their request was denied, Hensley said, by Villages executive director Sylvia Crawford, who referenced a federal policy requiring applications by visitors to be submitted two weeks in advance.
“In the meantime, we want to know where Gov. Colyer is on this matter,” Hensley said. "These kids deserve to be with their families. They don’t deserve to be in a facility in Kansas where it is unknown what conditions they’re living in.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said the Colyer administration ought to demonstrate a commitment to transparency by determining how many children taken from their parents at the border are in Kansas. He also sought information about whether the children had contacted their parents and when they might be reunited with their parents.