Last summer, a surge of unaccompanied youth from Central America arrived at the U.S. southern border, many fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. Thousands of these children have since been released to sponsors in states across the country as they await legal proceedings.
Response to the arrival of those children in local communities has varied -- particularly in the South.* Despite being home to only 29 percent of the country’s immigrant population, the region houses 49 percent of the unaccompanied children who have been released to sponsors.
While some communities have resisted the arrival of children from the border, others have been proactive in welcoming them, including these seven cities in the South:
Durham, North Carolina
On Jan. 5, 2015, Durham became the latest city to officially welcome 215 unaccompanied immigrant children who have arrived there from the border. Working with local civil rights advocates, the Durham City Council passed a resolution to welcome the unaccompanied children and the broader immigrant community to the city. It also expressed appreciation to schools, churches, nonprofits, and local agencies for providing services to them.
Orange County, North Carolina
A few miles down the road from Durham, local leaders in Orange County have also recently passed resolutions welcoming Central American children. While fewer than 50 children have been released to Orange County, according to federal records, three local leadership bodies – the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the town of Carrboro's Board of Aldermen and the Chapel Hill Town Council -- all passed resolutions similar to the one approved in Durham.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte and its home county of Mecklenburg haven't yet passed a "welcoming resolution," although the area accommodates the largest share of the 2,000 unaccompanied children who've been released in the state. (Neither has Wake County, home to the capital city of Raleigh and the second-largest share of unaccompanied immigrant children.) But Charlotte’s local elected, nonprofit, and faith leaders came together following the crisis to launch an initiative to build support and gather resources to help unaccompanied children. Its school system has also earned praise for responding quickly to the increase in immigrant students.
Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and the city council passed a resolution back in August welcoming unaccompanied children to the city and calling for state and federal leaders to pass comprehensive immigration reform. While the resolution is largely symbolic, the statement makes clear the city's position on the issue even as some of the state's leadership struck a more critical tone.
The mayor of what's known as the "capital of the South" released a statement welcoming immigrant children to the city. "As an international city, and one with a strong tradition of civil and human rights as home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta must lead and do our part to provide humanitarian care of the children," Mayor Kasim Reed said in July. Reed referenced in his statement the city's involvement in Welcoming America's Welcoming Cities Initiative, a long-term local effort to welcome and help integrate immigrants. Georgia's governor, Nathan Deal (R), also took a welcoming approach, meeting with local immigrant support organizations and calling on Georgians to show compassion for the children.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins expressed his willingness to welcome and shelter an estimated 2,000 immigrant children in the city early on as the crisis unfolded. "I believe that every child is precious, and that regardless of your stance on immigration or the causes of this human tragedy, we cannot turn our back on the children that are already here," Jenkins said in July. Over 1,200 children have been released to Dallas County since October 2013.
Rio Grande Valley, Texas
The mayors of the border cities of Brownsville, Edinburg and McAllen at the southern tip of Texas called for compassion and due process for the immigrant children. Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez reported "an outpouring of goodwill and generosity" for the children in his community, while Edinburg Mayor Ricardo Garcia referred to the crisis as a "humanitarian issue."
To see a sampling of welcoming statements and actions by local leaders across the country and the number of immigrant children that have been released to their state, check out the map below.
* The Institute for Southern Studies defines the South as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.