Duckworth fears migrant kids at shelter are hungry and scared

 
 
Updated 8/6/2018 9:38 PM
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  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth talks about her visit to a Heartland Alliance shelter where migrant children separated from their parents are located.

      Sen. Tammy Duckworth talks about her visit to a Heartland Alliance shelter where migrant children separated from their parents are located. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth raised concerns about an organization that cares for migrant children separated from their parents Monday, saying she worried they were hungry and stressed.

Heartland Alliance runs a number of shelters in the Chicago area, primarily for unaccompanied minors -- children who arrive in the U.S. from other countries without an adult. Heartland also looks after migrant children separated from their parents after crossing the border under a controversial government policy that was reversed in June.

At a news conference in Des Plaines, Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, said the agency on Monday refused to let her see any children at a Chicago shelter, Casa Guadalupe, who had been separated from their parents at the border, but she spoke with some unaccompanied minors.

Some children told her "they were not getting enough to eat," and "all the time were scared," Duckworth said. "A 6-year-old boy raised his hand and said, 'I'm scared at night ... somebody knocks on the walls and it's really scary.'"

Heartland officials said 99 migrant children separated from their parents were placed at its shelters this spring and summer and 89 have been reunited with a family member.

"Our staff are doing all that we can to ensure that children are reunited with parents or sponsors as quickly as possible, and that children are safe and well cared for while in our shelters," Heartland spokeswoman Mailee Garcia said. "Only the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has the authority to approve the release of children. Heartland Alliance stands alongside children and their families seeking safety in the U.S., and we fervently believe that families should be together."

Des Plaines-based Maryville also cared for four migrant children, but those have been reunited with their families.

Duckworth said she is asking Heartland to provide a care plan for the migrant children and has asked U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate.

The White House this spring instituted a "zero tolerance" policy for people entering the U.S. illegally, resulting in parents' being arrested and separated from their children.

Officials said it was to deter illegal immigration, but President Donald Trump reversed the policy after protests.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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