ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Martin O'Malley met with Maryland faith leaders Monday to discuss how to help unaccompanied immigrant children who have been coming across the border from Central America.
The meeting, which lasted roughly 90 minutes, was called by the Democratic governor to bring faith leaders together to exchange ideas about how they can play a role in addressing the problem.
"Basically, the governor has convened around 50 or so faith leaders from around the state to discuss possible constructive partnerships that the state can form with these faith entities who work in this field regularly to help address and respond to the humanitarian crisis on the border," said Nina Smith, O'Malley's spokeswoman.
Discussions ranged from how to help reunite children with family already living in the country to working with the current federal foster care system to helping locate facilities for children to stay.
The question of how to address the problem sparked a spat between O'Malley and President Barack Obama earlier this month, when O'Malley criticized a White House proposal that could speed up the deportation of the unaccompanied children. "We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death," O'Malley told reporters. After the governor's comments, reports surfaced about a leaked phone call in which O'Malley asked a White House official not to have children brought to a facility in Westminster, Maryland, due to local opposition.
William McCarthy, executive director of Catholic Charities, said one of the main purposes of Monday's meeting was to gather faith leaders to discuss what they could do together to help in Maryland.
"The issue is so large that no one organization alone can take care of that," McCarthy said after the meeting. "It requires all of us together to have the collective impact to really address the situation."
Catholic Charities is seeking a federal grant to house 50 children at St. Vincent's Villa, a residential facility in Baltimore County.
Since October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers have come from Central America. That's more than twice the number for the same period a year ago. Most of them have come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where rampant gang violence and intense poverty have driven tens of thousands of people to flee their borders.
Gustavo Torres, executive director of immigrant rights group CASA de Maryland, said another meeting is planned for next week. Torres said a network is being created to look for solutions.
"It's just the beginning of this conversation," Torres said.