Should Maryland house immigrant children?

On Monday, Gov. Martin O'Malley hosted a meeting of more than 50 faith groups and service providers -- trying to figure out whether any immigrant children could be housed here in Maryland.

The governor has made it clear he does not believe children should be sent back to their home countries, if that would mean sending them back to life-threatening situations.

The executive director of Catholic Charities, Bill McCarthy, has proposed housing about 50 immigrant children at St. Vincent's Villa in Timonium.

“We've been caring for children that have come here that have lost their parents, from foreign lands, going back to the 1820s," he said.

Other religious groups brought their proposals.  The federal government has been looking for places to put an estimated 60,000 immigrant children said to have crossed the border into the United States this year, without their parents.

“While that legal status is being determined, we have to house them. I support the approach of not big facilities, like when they wanted to put it in a converted social security building but in smaller facilities like Catholic Charities is recommending,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland).

Many of the children come from Central American countries including El Salvador. Maryland has a large Salvadoran population.  State officials are trying to determine if any of the children have family members here that they could stay with.

“There have always been kids in Maryland who are staying while their cases are working through the immigration system and we take care of them. Nothing has really changed except the quantity and that just means that we'll have to figure out a way to help more kids,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

McCarthy says he is aware that many residents might feel like more of the children should be sent home.  But while they are here, he says, basic needs of children have to trump politics.

“As a community and our history as a country we've always taken care of our neighbors in need and this is no time to stop doing that or to even doubt whether we should be doing that or not,” he said.

Governor O'Malley did not speak publicly during or after the meeting; he is expected to bring the group of faith leaders back together again for a progress report next week.

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