AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage learned Monday that eight unaccompanied children who entered the country illegally have been placed in Maine without his knowledge.
In a statement from the governor’s office, LePage said he learned about the children’s placement during a conference call with White House staff and other governors.
“No one from the federal government had informed me or the Governor’s Office that unaccompanied alien children were coming to Maine,” he wrote. “The White House officials did not provide any further information, and questions by other governors about how to handle unaccompanied alien children went unanswered.”
The process that likely put the children in Maine predates LePage’s tenure in office as well as President Barack Obama’s: Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has taken custody and care of “unaccompanied alien children.” The department makes efforts to release the child to a relative in the United States while he or she is processed by immigration officials — a process that can take up to two years.
The process can end in the child receiving refugee status or special residency status, or in deportation.
The problem came to a head recently on reports of more than 57,000 children being held up in the system as the U.S.-Mexico border sees the number of unaccompanied alien children surge. The U.S. government predicts roughly 60,000 such children will be taken into custody this year, more than twice as many as last year.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, after saying he had grown tired of federal officials’ “lip service” and “empty promises.”
Perry sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and is considered a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
“The president has failed to enforce our border laws,” LePage said. “Now states like Texas are facing a crisis. The failure of Congress and the president to address our border issues should not result in more of a financial burden on Maine people. We cannot become a state that encourages illegal immigration. We simply cannot afford it.”
As Republicans strive to gain seats in the U.S. House and seize control of the Senate in this year’s elections, immigration has become an issue the party has emphasized.
Questions about where the children came from and when they were placed in Maine remained unanswered on Monday afternoon. LePage said White House officials did not answer his questions.
“We’d like to know the answers to those questions, too,” said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.