BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Although 2,500 miles from the continental United States, Hawaii has joined the list of states temporarily housing unaccompanied minors from Central America who have illegally crossed into America through the Southwest border.
Who’s paying the freight? You, the taxpayer.
Some 60,000 Central American youths fleeing drug cartels, human traffickers and gangs have come to the United States in the past few months. That number could reach 90,000 by the end of the year. Politicians, border agents and social service workers call the migration a “humanitarian crisis.”
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesperson the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told Hawaii Reporter that “between January 1 and July 7, a total of eight minors were discharged from the unaccompanied alien children program to sponsors in Hawaii.”
Wolfe couldn’t offer any details on the ages and countries of origin of the children, where the children are now living, or who their Hawaii sponsors are. However, he added the sponsors are “mostly family members of the child. In fact, more than half are parents of the minor.”
Federal taxpayers cover the cost of transportation and housing for the refugee children, including their airfare to Hawaii, Wolfe said.
Former Congressman Charles Djou, R-Hawaii, said while he feels for the children and is sympathetic to their plight, he doesn’t believe taxpayers should be covering their airline tickets to Hawaii.
Djou said if children in Central America hear that they could get an all-expense trip paid to Hawaii via the American government, more might cross the border illegally.
“What an incentive,” Djou said.
The average length of stay in the program is now less than 30 days, according to Wolfe.
However, Hawaii immigration attorney Clare Hanusz said the children could be here much longer, depending on the immigration court calendar.
Compared with other states, Hawaii’s federal immigration court isn’t busy, she said, and cases can move quickly through the system. However, cases that have special circumstances and require witnesses or experts can take five to six months, she said.
Some Hawaii residents have reached out to Hanusz, a well known immigration attorney with the law firm of Damon Key, to offer the children accommodations and money — and even to adopt them. However, Hanusz said unless the children or their sponsors come forward, no one will know who they are or where they are living.