MYRTLE BEACH — Gov. Henry McMaster has moved to close South Carolina's doors to unaccompanied migrant children from the southern border.
McMaster signed an executive order April 12 mandating the S.C. Department of Social Services prevent federal agencies from placing undocumented and unaccompanied migrant children into South Carolina foster care and group homes.
The move comes as there has been a decline in the number of children in the foster care system but a spike in lone children crossing the border — some 19,000 last month.
McMaster's move comes days after he was in Texas over the weekend visiting S.C. National Guard soldiers and where he said he saw firsthand migrants trying to come across the border.
"I think the Biden administration has made a very bad decision in stopping construction on that wall," McMaster said during a Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce meeting.
President Joe Biden suspended wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border in January.
McMaster's order comes after the governor contacted DSS about the system’s capacity to accommodate minors. In an April 8 letter, DSS Director Michael Leach told McMaster the federal government has made preliminary inquiries to move an unknown number of unaccompanied migrant children from the southern border and put them in South Carolina foster care or group homes licensed by DSS.
McMaster is moving to stop that from happening.
“South Carolina’s children must always be given first priority for placement into foster care and the state’s strained resources must be directed to addressing the needs of its children," the governor wrote Leach, according to a press announcement April 12 from his office.
"Allowing the federal government to place an unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our state’s child welfare system for an unspecified length of time is an unacceptable proposition," McMaster added. "We’ve been down this road with the federal government before and the state usually ends up ‘on the hook.’ ”
McMaster asked the agency to determine potential risks posed to the state's child welfare system and to provide options to mitigate them.
Whether DSS currently has unaccompanied migrant children in its system is unclear; DSS was not willing to comment further.
"We have to be sure that we are taking care of those that we already committed to first," McMaster said in regards to children already in foster care.
According to DSS data, in March 2020 there were close 4,400 children in South Carolina foster care. Last month there were close to 3,900 children.
A DSS spokeswoman said the agency's primary concern is state resident cases.
"As much as the people of the (DSS) are inclined to offer aid and assistance in any crisis, DSS is nonetheless faced with the reality that placement of unaccompanied minors in South Carolina group care facilities could have detrimental impacts on the child welfare system including, but not limited to, the health and safety of children already placed at these facilities and the potential displacement of South Carolina children who need services," DSS spokeswoman Danielle Jones said.
Jones added that while the federal government offering additional payments might benefit foster care providers, the overall lack of support from the federal government would leave many of the unaccompanied minors dependent on South Carolina.