DES MOINES | A grassroots group launched an effort Tuesday to relocate at least 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children to Iowa while political issues surrounding their plight get sorted out, a key organizer said.
Rich Eychaner, founder and director of the Des Moines-based Eychaner Foundation, a charitable organization, announced a “1,000 Kids for Iowa” crisis initiative to provide safe homes for children from Central American countries who currently are incarcerated along the U.S. southwestern border.
“I’m convinced that Iowans have in their hearts enough goodwill to protect these children and to provide them a safe home,” Eychaner told an afternoon news conference. “We think this is a moral imperative to protect these kids and offer them shelter and so we’re doing so.”
Eychaner established 1000kidsforiowa.com to act as a resource and clearinghouse for churches, families individuals, nonprofit groups, charitable organizations or others who want to house children, donate supplies or financial resources or provide services.
“We are called by our heart to do this work and our hope is that you find it in your heart to join us,” said Jessica Brackett, who signed on Monday night as project manager for the refugee relocation effort.
Eychaner said his foundation was calling upon the federal government to transfer 1,000 children from incarceration to Iowa to be cared for and supported by Iowa families. He said his organization hoped to coordinate and assemble the immediate support services from caring volunteers around Iowa to house, feed, care for and educate these children for as long as is necessary.
"If every state organized to accept 1,000 kids or more, proportionate to their size, the incarceration of children could end," Eychaner said. If every church in Iowa stepped up to sponsor a child, much of the need could be addressed.
Eychaner likened the effort to the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees that Iowans undertook under the guidance of former Gov. Robert Ray.
Under current law, immigrant children from countries that do not border the United States and who cross into the U.S. by themselves are turned over to federal authorities. Then, they often are reunited with parents or placed with other relatives already living here while they wait for an immigration court to decide their future. The court process can take years.
Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that he does not want Iowa to host any of the thousands of children from Central America who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border alone. He said the government's focus should be on securing the borders.
Branstad was among a group of governors that met Sunday with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell as the Obama administration sought support from states that could host the children.