READING, Pa. - The crisis at the southern U.S. border has taken center stage in Berks County.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have been coming to the U.S. from Central America. During the weekly Berks County Commissioner's meeting Thursday, the immigration issue dominated the conversation.
Commissioner Mark Scott, R-Berks County, warned the public about the impact it could have on taxpayers because a federal program is on the verge of being implemented in Berks County.
According to Scott, the county was given notice of the filing for the federal program, "Special Juvenile Immigrant Status." It could bring unaccompanied children well beyond the border states to Berks County, placed by KidsPeace, a private charity that offers services in Pennsylvania.
"We don't know it's a certainty, but it's likely these children will be entitled to hearings before our court of common pleas common courts," said Commissioner Christian Leinbach, R-Berks County.
The commissioners said some non-profits in Berks County could provide free legal services seeking to have these children adjudicated in court as dependents.
"These are non-citizens, and we're concerned they might ultimately become involved with our child protective services and at a great expense," said Scott.
Scott said this program would generate more revenue for non-profits to fill empty beds, but if the children are in foster care, they would attend local schools.
"What does that do to the children that are already here legally?" asked Leinbach. "We have an obligation to take care of them, and it raises a lot of serious questions."
Leinbach worried the resources would be stretched too thin and Berks County would be staring a financial crisis in the face.
"The taxpayer pays all these costs. Whether it's federal, state or local, somebody is picking up the cost, and it's the guy with a paycheck," said Scott.
It is not definite when or if the program will come to fruition. The commissioners said they're looking at all their options and they're seeking legal advice from officials better versed in immigration law.
Allentown, PA 18102