Immigrant children being housed in Topeka group home
TOPEKA — A Topeka-based agency that operates a group home for troubled youths confirmed Thursday that it is housing children who came to the United States recently as unaccompanied children, but the agency did not specify how many of those children it is housing or how those children arrived in the country.
Joseph W. Wittrock, president of The Villages Inc., said in a statement that the agency receives children who are classified as unaccompanied minors by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The path the children took which has necessitated our care may have originated in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Florida, Texas, Michigan, California, Hutchison, Salina, Junction City, Kansas City, Lawrence, Holton, Topeka or any other city, state or country in the world,” the statement read. “Our program does not discriminate against children in need – our program exists to serve children in need.”
“While in our care, The Villages works diligently to reunite Unaccompanied Children with family members or other qualified sponsors and we have had great success to date,” the statement said.
The Villages operates five group homes in Topeka and two in Lawrence.
It was not immediately clear from the statement whether the unaccompanied minors being housed at The Villages are among the estimated 2,300 who have been separated from their parents by U.S. immigration officials after crossing the southern border illegally.
Until Wednesday, those forced separations were part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration. But in the face of intense public backlash, President Trump issued an executive order Wednesday reversing that policy and establishing a new one that allows families to be detained together while the parents await legal processing.
A person who answered the phone at The Villages said Thursday that the agency has been inundated with phone calls since news stories about the refugee children began circulating in regional media.
In 2016, then-Gov. Sam Brownback halted the state’s participation in the federal refugee resettlement program, citing concerns about the possibility of terrorists entering the country posing as refugees from the civil war in Syria.
Since then, the federal government has worked directly with nonprofit agencies in Kansas. Among those, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s website, is Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
Officials there did not immediately respond to a request for comment.