(USA TODAY)- Some local leaders around the country are starting to open their doors to house unaccompanied immigrant children caught along the U.S./Mexico border, even as some communities have resisted.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., was the latest to express a willingness to house some of the 40,000 Central American children that have been caught this year and have prompted federal officials to scour the country to find suitable housing for them.
Federal law requires that children be placed in protective care while their immigration cases are resolved. And while Christie was critical of the Obama administration for failing to secure the border and allowing for that flood of children, he said his office would consider any request from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to house the children in his state.
"We are an empathetic people in this country and we don't like seeing people suffer," he said according to CNN.
After several weeks that saw local leaders and citizens protesting the idea of housing the children in their backyards, some are now volunteering to help.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said Friday that her city has a long history of welcoming immigrants, from her great-grandparents who immigrated there from Ireland to work on the Erie Canal, to recent waves of refugees from Bhutan, Iraq and South Sudan. The city still has a small Hispanic population, but she said she is helping federal officials examine a former covenant in Syracuse that could be used to house some of the kids.
"Are there going to be protests? Probably. Are there people calling and sending me e-mails who disagree with my decision? Yes," she said. "But that chord exists throughout our entire history. And I react much more to the faces of the children and the pictures of the shelters where they're living."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett held a conference call Friday with local charities and government agencies to help identify locations to house the children.
"You have to take a step back and say, 'We're talking about kids as young as five,'" he said. "What's our role as human beings?"
Miner and Barrett's comments echo those of other leaders who have spoken out in recent days. Davenport (Idaho) Mayor Bill Gluba has put together a similar team to identify locations to house children, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., have said they would consider doing the same.
Those reactions followed a difficult period for the Obama administration, which was finding sharp resistance to find housing for the children after Border Patrol stations across the southwest border were filled far beyond their capacity with the immigration children.
Under a federal law passed in 2008, Border Patrol agents must turn over children from Central American countries to HHS within 72 hours. The department must then find them suitable short-term housing, and eventually find them long-term care, while their immigration cases are resolved.
White House officials first turned to the Department of Defense, using military facilities in Texas, California and Oklahoma to house some children. But they are now scouring the country to find more beds.
That prompted protests around the country, including groups of people trying to block the buses carrying the immigrants to facilities in Murrieta, Calif., and Oracle, Ariz. Other politicians around the country rebuffed requests to use their facilities, and Tea Party groups are planning protests around the country this weekend.
Some say the kids should be returned to their home countries. Others have said they worry about the financial burden, despite assurances from the White House that the federal government will pick up the entire tab of the kids' stay.
"We are not insensitive, we are not a bunch of white racists out here, like they like to portray us," Vassar (Mich.) Mayor Pro-Tem Dan Surgent told WJRT-TV. "We love children."
But for those who are opening their doors to the kids, none of those reasons make much sense.
"People elect their mayors to be leaders and to solve problems," Miner said. "The majority of the people of Syracuse are proud of our history and want to help solve this humanitarian crisis."