ANNAPOLIS — Maryland officials met Tuesday with members of the legal community to discuss how to help children from Central America who have crossed the border alone and are now in the state or soon could be.
Ted Dallas, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said officials met with about 20 to 30 people, including pro bono attorneys, representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and private attorneys who have expressed an interest in assisting children with legal services they will need.
“Today, we began a conversation with them,” Dallas said. “We asked them what kind of needs they’re seeing out there, and what ways as a state we can help convene resources and we can help them through that process so that these kids get a day in court as they’re entitled to.”
Dallas said they discussed how to streamline the legal process due to the volume of cases that will go through Maryland. Dallas also said they discussed how to help families that are hosting the children to get legal services they need.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says Maryland has about 2,205 of the unaccompanied children that have come across the border between Jan. 1 and July 7.
The meeting on Tuesday marked the latest effort by Maryland officials to address the problem. Gov. Martin O’Malley met twice last month with clergy members to talk about how they can help. Late last week, officials met with residential service providers as well as foster care providers to discuss working with them on federal grant opportunities to house children, Dallas said. A deadline to apply for federal grants was set to expire Tuesday.
Since Oct. 1, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been caught crossing the Mexican border illegally. Dallas noted that Maryland is home to a large population of people from those countries, and most of the children in Maryland who have crossed the border have been brought to family members already in the state.
For children who need temporary group housing, Dallas said some providers in Maryland are exploring the possibility of providing places for children to stay.
“There won’t be one central location in the state for these children,” Dallas said. “There are a few providers that are stepping up and providing services.”
Dallas said Montgomery County, along with a nonprofit provider, has submitted an application with the federal government to house children.
“It will be up to the federal government whether they choose to award that application,” Dallas said.
Dallas said two more meetings with stakeholders are scheduled. One will address basic economic needs for children, such as clothing and food. He also said another meeting will relate to addressing health care needs.
Anne Sheridan, who is director of the Governor’s Office for Children, said state officials are coordinating with schools to help them deal with challenges presented by an uptick in students.
“We’re aware that this is having an impact in some of our larger jurisdictions, and we’re available to try to help address that,” Sheridan said.