U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., hopes the Grand Forks community will welcome unaccompanied children coming over the country's southern border if federal agencies decide to temporarily house them in the Red River Valley.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is considering using Grand Forks Air Force Base as temporary shelter for children coming across the border without an adult. The idea has been opposed by North Dakota's other two representatives in Congress, Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, who are both Republicans.
"I've seen the work that (the U.S. Department of Defense) does with HHS, and although it is horribly premature to think it's going to happen in Grand Forks, I certainly hope the prevailing attitude in Grand Forks will be one of welcoming these children," she said Friday afternoon in a meeting with the Herald editorial board. She emphasized the minors would be here for a matter of weeks.
"It's not permanent," Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp said her position on the issue stems from seeing the challenges the children face. A majority of the 68,000 children apprehended in fiscal year 2014 were from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, "where rates of violence exceed that in recognized war zones," according to an American Immigration Council report.
"They have lived a life we cannot imagine in this country," Heitkamp said. "They are not migrating. They are fleeing."
Cramer has said he opposes the "inappropriate" use of a military base for temporary housing of unaccompanied minors, and Hoeven said bringing them far away from the border creates logistical problems for returning them to their home countries.
The children would go through immigration proceedings once they leave HHS care.
Heitkamp stood by the agreement struck last year to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities in exchange for lifting certain sanctions.
Heitkamp cited the international cooperation that she said made the sanctions effective in the first place and the expectation that the other negotiating countries would move ahead with the deal. She also pointed out nothing in the agreement prevents the U.S. from taking military action.
"It's one of those votes where you have to make your best judgement," Heitkamp said. "And because you have access to a lot of information that a lot of other people don't have access to, meaning your constituents, it can be lonely."
Both Hoeven and Cramer opposed the deal.
"It's not the judgement everybody made, certainly not the judgement my colleagues in North Dakota made, but it's a judgement I'll stand by," Heitkamp said. "But now it's my job ... to make sure it's enforced."