As the gang violence and drug wars ravaging Central American countries propel waves of homeless, needy children to the southern border of the United States, St. Louis city and county governments are applying for federal dollars to pay for 60 migrant children to find shelter in St. Louis.
Mayor Francis Slay, County Executive Charlie Dooley and an alliance of nonprofit organizations announced the plan to apply for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement program Friday. If St. Louis is approved, the federal government would relocate about 60 of the children waiting in border detention centers to residential facilities in the county for housing, health, food, counseling and educational services.
The move is a controversial one in a politically polarized America that is still stinging from the 2008 recession.
Anti-immigration activists are physically trying to stop buses of children from entering the U.S. -- to the point where one GOP candidate angrily chased down a bus full of YMCA campers -- to stop federal dollars from aiding non-American people. Republicans in Congress refused to give President Barack Obama the $3.7 billion he wanted to deal with the growing crisis.
"We will leave the Washington blame game to the Washington politicians," Slay said Friday. "They can debate the cause of the crisis, and hopefully one day agree on a solution. Until then, we are going to try to help these kids, because that is what they are -- children."
Journalists were quick to ask Dooley, who is running his fourth re-election campaign in a district with a strong conservative base, why he's supporting a plan that's sure to anger voters.
"This country was founded on immigration, for God's sake," Dooley responded. "This is the right thing to do at the right time. We care about children, not the politics."
If St. Louis is approved to shelter migrant children waiting for immigration hearings or foster placement, the funds for the program will come from federal sources, not the local tax base. The Incarnate Word Foundation of St. Louis has also pledged $25,000 to cover expenses.
Children would be housed in one of three St. Louis County shelters for children that say they've got extra room: Marygrove in north St. Louis County, St. Vincent Home for Children in Normandy and Great Circle in Webster Groves. Children would stay for about a month, officials say, and when a child moved on, a new child would take his or her place.
The St. Louis alliance only decided to apply to take migrant children about two weeks before the August 5 deadline, and officials weren't sure how much money they would get if approved. Children will most likely arrive after September and stay for about a month at a time.