By JEFFREY COLLINS Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s governor issued an order Monday to ban foster care and group homes in the state from taking in unaccompanied children found at the southern border of the U.S.
Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, blamed President Joe Biden for a “humanitarian crisis on our border” and said he issued the executive order to make sure South Carolina children come first.
“Sending unaccompanied migrant children from the border to states like South Carolina only makes the problem worse,” McMaster wrote on Twitter as he posted his order.
McMaster’s executive order tells the state Department of Social Services to take any steps, including revocation of licenses, to prevent children from being placed in South Carolina.
The governor, who was one of the earliest supporters of former President Donald Trump, visited National Guard troops from South Carolina stationed at the Mexican border over the weekend.
The director of South Carolina’s social services agency had reached out to McMaster on Thursday, saying that federal officials asked the state for regulations and a list of homes with room on April 1.
The federal government was offering three times the daily rate the state pays the home, which “would incentivize providers to accept migrant placements rather than the State’s placements,” state Department of Social Services Director Michael Leach wrote in a letter to McMaster.
It isn’t clear exactly how many children the federal government wanted to place in South Carolina homes or how close the government was to sending children north. At least six private foster care homes were interested in the federal offer, Leach wrote.
The U.S. government picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border in March, authorities said last week.
A complex mix of factors in the United States and Central America drove the increase. It has coincided with the Biden administration’s decision to exempt unaccompanied children from pandemic-related powers to immediately expel most people from the country without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum. Children are instead released to sponsors in the U.S., usually parents or close relatives, while being allowed to pursue their cases in heavily backlogged immigration courts.
The huge increase in children traveling alone — some as young as 3 — and families has severely strained border holding facilities, which aren’t allowed to hold people for more than three days but often do. It’s left the government scrambling to find space and hire staff to care for children longer term until they can be placed with sponsors.
One of Leach’s letters said the government planned to leave children in the temporary homes for no more than 35 days, but it could be longer if relatives could not be found.
McMaster also cited the risk of spreading COVID-19 in his order.
“Allowing the federal government to place an unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our state’s child welfare system for an unspecified length of time is an unacceptable proposition. We’ve been down this road with the federal government before and the state usually ends up ‘on the hook,'” McMaster wrote in a Friday letter asking state officials to outline the risks in taking the children.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.