States with established Central American immigrant communities have received the most children released to sponsors this year after being arrested unaccompanied at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to federal data released Thursday.
Texas took in 4,280 of the children through July 7, followed by New York with 3,347, Florida with 3,181, California with 3,150, Virginia with 2,234 and Maryland with 2,205, said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's Administration for Children and Families.
In all, 30,340 unaccompanied children have been released to sponsors in 2014, often to their parents. The agency didn't break down numbers by nationality but the vast majority were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The numbers mirror well-established migration patterns of Central Americans living in the U.S.
Miami-Dade County in Florida is already home to the largest number of Hondurans; followed by Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston; and Los Angeles, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of 2010 census data.
Los Angeles is home to the largest number of Salvadorans, followed by Harris County, Texas, and Montgomery County, Maryland.
Los Angeles and Harris counties are the top two destinations for Guatemalans followed by Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied children were arrested by the Border Patrol from October through June, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. Of those, 28.8 percent were from Honduras, 24.5 percent from Guatemala, and 21.9 percent were from El Salvador.
The federal government must place them in the least restrictive setting while they are involved in immigration proceedings under terms of a class-action lawsuit settlement in 1997. The Administration for Children and Families said it tries first to place children with a parent, second with a relative, and third with a family friend.
The surge has overwhelmed the government, leading it to open temporary shelters at military bases in San Antonio; Ventura, California; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and to search nationwide for new shelters to hold children until they are released to sponsors. It has also revealed a sharp political divide between the nation's governors.
John Kitzhaber, Oregon's Democratic governor, said Thursday that his state welcomed the children and that the border surge was a reminder of Congress' failure to reform immigration laws. Fifty unaccompanied children have been released in Oregon this year.
"These children are fleeing their homelands because of overwhelming violence and economic hardship, and they do not deserve to become political fodder," Kitzhaber told The Associated Press. "
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter asked the U.S. Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday not to send any children to his state, which has received eight this year.
"It should be understood that the state of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created," Otter, a Republican, wrote. "Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government's hands."
Sponsors undergo background checks that include a search of criminal records and are responsible for making sure a child shows up for court, the agency said. The sponsors' immigration status is not considered.