Iowa Mayor Calls For 'Caring Cities' To Take In Young Immigrants Unaccompanied, undocumented children from Central America aren't just sparking debate in the Southwest. The question of whether to offer shelter to the minors has led to divided opinions in Iowa.
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Iowa Mayor Calls For 'Caring Cities' To Take In Young Immigrants

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Iowa Mayor Calls For 'Caring Cities' To Take In Young Immigrants

Iowa Mayor Calls For 'Caring Cities' To Take In Young Immigrants

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Much of this nation is debating of whether to change the rules for thousands of young people crossing the border from Central America. The question is whether to find some way to send young people home more quickly. But the fact is that, under current rules, many are kept in the United States for months or years until they get a hearing and that raises the question of where they stay. The search for new locations away from the southwestern border has raise concerns in states like Virginia and now Iowa. In Davenport last night, city council members held off on a vote but said their message to the mayor is clear - do not spend any city funds on an effort designed to bring some of the miners to the Quad Cities area. Davenport, Iowa Mayor Bill Gluba says the children should be welcomed. He's asking residents to support his Caring Cities Campaign. NPR's Cheryl Corely reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: This has been a busy time for silver-haired Bill Gluba. The mayor of Davenport has been working with social service agencies, trying to figure out a way to house some of the undocumented minors from Central America. In his city hall office, he quickly goes through some papers on a table.

MAYOR BILL GLUBA: I just came from a meeting. We've got another site - another site possibility. So we'll send that in to health and human resources and see if it has any potential to be used to house these children.

CORLEY: The federal government operates about 100 short-term shelters for children who enter the country without a parent. Because of the large increase in the number of unaccompanied children, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, there's been a push to open temporary shelters. Nora Dvorak, who ran the Refugee Resettlement Office in Davenport for years, is one of the leaders of the campaign and says the city could help.

NORA DVORAK: We have three sites that are potential sites, but we really need to do some more exploration about them. They're certainly better than where they are currently being held in detention cells and what have you. That's not - simply not OK for children.

CORLEY: This week, the mayor of Des Moines announced his support for the Caring Cities Campaign, but both he and Gluba are at odds with the state's governor, Terry Branstad.

GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD: It would not be wise to say, if you can come here - if he somehow get here illegally, then you can say and - that would be just the wrong signal. It would make a bad situation much worse.

CORLEY: Even so, the federal government has placed more than 100 of the minors with sponsors, mostly family members, in Iowa. And Gluba and the supporters of the Caring Cities Campaign say Davenport could house up 50. The mayor says his campaign is a private one with no call for city funds. Even so, Alderman Bill Edmond led a charge for a motion that prohibits the use of city money or staff for Caring Cities. Last night, the Davenport City Council tabled that motion indefinitely. But Edmond says the message is clear, and he says the Caring Cities Campaign could be dangerous to residence here.

ALDERMAN BILL EDMOND: Our own DHS says that the majority of these children are actually over the age of 14 and 75 percent of them are male - many of them with gang tattoos on them. I'm not sure that's what we want to bring into the city of Davenport.

CORLEY: But Mayor Glubs says Iowa has a history of helping those displaced. His sample is former Republican Governor Bob Ray who, in the 1970s, helped settle refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in Iowa.

GLUBA: He welcomed people. He said, sure, we'll take as many as we can handle - Viennese refugees. And they got in touch with Catholic social services and various dioceses and Lutheran social services and all the good folks in the state of Iowa, and they welcomed - welcomed families into the state.

CORLEY: Current Governor Branstad said those refugees came to the United States legally, unlike the undocumented minors from Central America. In the parking lot of a Davenport grocery store, the opinions were mixed. Darin Vanpaemel says he thinks bringing the minors to Davenport is a crazy idea.

DARIN VANPAEMEL: Yeah, I do. I mean, I feel bad for the kids, but we've got kids here that are in trouble. So we take care of those kids that are here in trouble first.

CORLEY: Other said the immigration laws need to be enforced, while Mark Anderson, a Davenport minister, says he knows plenty who'd be willing to let the minors come in.

MINISTER MARK ANDERSON: Devonport is the heartland of America and - lot of good folks here in the Midwest city. And I think it'd be could be a good thing for the community - a good thing for those folks, as well.

CORLEY: Meantime, Mayor Gluba says his Caring Cities Campaign goes well beyond the Quad Cities. He's approached the U.S. Conference of Mayors in hopes of persuading other mayors throughout the country who may be reluctant to provide a safe haven for the undocumented Central American minors. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

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