WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Tuesday urged colleagues to pass the administration’s supplemental budget request of $3.7 billion to deal with he called a child refugee crisis at the Southern border.
Durbin spoke of visiting a group of refugee children being housed in Chicago on Monday. The children are under the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Heartland Alliance, an Illinois-based social services agency.
“I went to a residential neighborhood in Chicago and went into a building and saw a piece of American history and an American humanitarian challenge, the likes of which we’ve seldom seen. In this building were 70 children. They were children who just hours and days ago were at the border of the United States and Mexico,” Durbin said.
“This situation is a terrible humanitarian crisis involving vulnerable children. The United States is about to be tested. We’re about to be tested as how our generation responds to this. I hope we pass that test.”
During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week on the President’s supplemental request, Durbin questioned Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell about the humanitarian crisis at the border.
Eighty percent of the child refugees currently crossing the border are from just three countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — where violence from gangs and drug cartels has spiked dramatically in the last few years. According to the United Nations, asylum requests by Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans seeking refuge in the neighboring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize have increased by 712 percent from 2008 to 2013.
Heartland Alliance, through Heartland Human Care Shelters, has housed unaccompanied immigrant children since 1995. The exact locations of these facilities are confidential. According to HHS, as of July 8, Heartland is housing 429 children and another 319 children have been placed with family members or sponsors in Illinois. Currently, 90 percent of the children at Heartland’s facilities are recent arrivals.