LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he wants to put strict conditions on transporting migrant children into the country's interior, offering the proposal days after a flap surfaced about whether Fort Knox was targeted to temporarily house some of the young immigrants.
The Kentucky Republican raised the issue in an amendment he filed to the Senate's border legislation. McConnell's proposal would require the Obama administration to consult with a state's governor before unaccompanied immigrant children would be temporarily relocated to that state.
"My amendment makes clear that these minors should be treated humanely and returned to their home country immediately, not shipped across the nation and housed at taxpayer expense," McConnell said.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Many are fleeing gangs and trying to reunite with family members, but they are also drawn by rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay.
The proposal on a hot-button issue comes as McConnell, a five-term Republican, tries to survive his toughest re-election campaign. Immigration has been an issue in Kentucky's hard-hitting Senate race this year pitting McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Grimes' campaign manager, Jonathan Hurst, accused McConnell of "playing Washington games and resorting to gimmicks."
"If he was serious about strengthening our border, he would support comprehensive immigration reform," Hurst said.
McConnell's campaign said the response showed that Grimes is out of touch on immigration issues.
"How anyone could oppose Kentucky's right to be consulted before our taxpayers are potentially asked to support thousands of children is mind-boggling," said McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore.
Grimes recently said the border crisis involving tens of thousands of migrant children could be traced in part to a lack of congressional action on immigration. She portrays her Republican opponent as an obstructionist in Washington.
"A year ago, we had the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and Mitch McConnell stood in the way," Grimes said. "My hope is that we can make sure to return these children safely and that we make sure that we are securing our borders. Comprehensive immigration reform is the way to do that."
Last week, McConnell's Kentucky colleague, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, drew attention for telling a business summit in Louisville that "it looks like" some of the young immigrants pouring across the border might end up at Fort Knox temporarily.
Two Kentucky congressmen, Democrat John Yarmuth and Republican Brett Guthrie, later said they had received assurances from the Department of Health and Human Services that the Army post in Kentucky was not under consideration to house some of the unaccompanied migrant children.
A Health and Human Services spokesman confirmed that the agency has no plans to use Fort Knox as a shelter for the children. A Pentagon spokesman said that Fort Knox was initially on a short list of installations offered up by the military as possible sites but had been "kind of taken off the table."
A handful of U.S. military installations have been used to temporarily house some of the young migrants.
McConnell's amendment would block such relocations across state lines unless the federal health and human services secretary certified that the children would not pose a public health threat or economic burden to the affected state or communities. The health and human services agency would have to consult the state's governor. The relocations also could not delay the children's return to their home countries.
It was uncertain late Thursday afternoon if McConnell's amendment would come up for debate in the Democratic-led Senate.