Rilling: Reaching out to help undocumented kids is a humanitarian effort

Mayor Harry Rilling
Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – The humanitarian crisis involving thousands of children from Central America, unaccompanied by parents or guardians, streaming across the nation’s southern border has reached Connecticut.

More than 57,000 unaccompanied children have come into the U.S. since October from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, according to a story in the New Haven Register. The federal government has been trying to find facilities across the nation to house and care for the children while their situations are sorted out, the story said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last week rejected a request from Washington for Connecticut to take 2,000 of the children and house them in the Southbury Training School, which the governor said was deteriorating.

Connecticut was the lone New England state to say no.

The children have come across the border illegally, Mayor Harry Rilling said Friday night. “Yes, they are undocumented, but this is very different. These are young people, victims of exploitation and human trafficking.”

Rilling was part of a group of a dozen Connecticut mayors who took part in a Friday morning conference call organized by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. The group discussed ways to handle the influx of unaccompanied, undocumented children who, Rilling said, need to be cared for until their situations are resolved.

“Everybody is trying to figure out how do we deal with this? … I said, ‘Wait, we don’t want to put all these people in one place,” Rilling said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we each dedicate one staff person from each of our staffs and develop a process that we can live with?’”

Rilling said he has tabbed Norwalk Human Relations Director Adam Bovilsky as his representative to the group.

“We cannot afford as individual cities to find” city-sponsored housing, health care, nutrition, education, recreation, supervision – “this kind of process,” Rilling said. “We need to work with not-for-profits and faith-based groups” who are better able to handle that.

“The ideal situation is to reunite them with any family members or with foster homes,” he said.

“We don’t have the resources to put them in one huge place,” he said. “The only huge place would be a jail. That would be last thing you’d want to do.”

Rilling said he had spoken with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who told him there are about 325 of the children in Connecticut, and about 4.5 percent are in Norwalk.

“That is 14 to 15 young people in this city who need assistance,” he said. “We don’t know who they are, where they are.”

Rilling said many of the children may be staying with undocumented relatives or others who are likely reluctant to come forward to government officials in search of help.

“It’s a process not easily resolved, but we’re going to make sure we take care of the children until we figure out what is going to happen,” he said.

“Local municipalities do not get involved in immigration issues,” the former police chief said. “The only time police get involved is when there is an undocumented person who has committed a serious crime. Our job is to take care of people in our communities and try to accommodate what they need – within reason, obviously. We need to attend to the needs of the children until we determine what their ultimate status is going to be.”

Rilling emphasized that these are not criminals or people coming to this country in search of jobs.

“We are talking children who have become victims of human trafficking,” he said. “They fall into different situations that are not good for them. This is a humanitarian effort. The immediate issue right now is to identify who they are, find out what their needs are, and take care of them until we can find out what the final resolution is going to be.”

Common Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) praised the mayor for joining the statewide group of city leaders to help find a solution to the problem.

“I would like to commend Mayor Rilling and the other mayors who joined him on the phone today, for taking steps to find solutions to help address what is indeed a humanitarian crisis at our border,” she said. “I’m thankful that our mayor was able to represent our great, diverse city today and am hopeful that we, as a city, will be able to help our nation in this crisis.”


31 responses to “Rilling: Reaching out to help undocumented kids is a humanitarian effort”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    You cannot legislate charity and goodwill, I applaud this mayor for trying to find a solution. Imagine your own children, adrift, with no vision of their own welfare.
    These children deserve the reaction of our collective better angels.
    While there are not for profit who will undoubtably step up to the plate, it’s incumbent upon every son, grand son, great grand son or daughters of immigrants to afford these children security, protection, and goodwill.
    You cannot buy into the American dream without this, that’s the real meaning of that dream. It is not birthright that sets the measure of a person, rather their own will, and their goals.
    The Mariel boatlift in the ’80’s led to a vibrant community in Florida, yes, there are rocky starts, of course, there are, but look at the infusion of new ideas that event blessed upon this country.
    We should not pass up this opportunity to help others in need, after all, that is what this country has been from the very beginning. A “second wind”.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. mi casa es su casa

    “We cannot afford as individual cities to find” city-sponsored housing, health care, nutrition, education, recreation, supervision – “this kind of process,” Rilling said. “We need to work with not-for-profits and faith-based groups” who are better able to handle that.
    If it’s good for illegals, why wouldn’t that approach work for our own destitute citizens?
    Is this a turn from our Mayor. Has he acknowledged that more government isn’t an effective means to solve social issues in general?

  3. Ryan

    Sorry. They are illegal. Children or not they are illegal. Return them to their place of origin.

  4. The Family Guy

    I don’t think helping undocumented children who run away from their homeland in South America to come to North America is a humanitarian effort. I think it’s totally mindless and will only encourage more mindless, irresponsible activity.

  5. Casey Smith

    “That is 14 to 15 young people in this city who need assistance,” he said. “We don’t know who they are, where they are.” Rilling said many of the children may be staying with undocumented relatives or others who are likely reluctant to come forward to government officials in search of help.”

    Okay. So somebody explain this to me in clear and simple terms. In Norwalk, the School District does not ask who is documented, who is a citizen and who is “illegal”. But we apparently know there are 14 to 15 young people already here in the City who “may be staying with undocumented relatives”? And we know this how? Because Governor Malloy said so? And the Governor knows this because somebody somewhere did a statistical break down of a projected number? Or how did they figure we got 4.5%?
    Forgive my skepticism here, but exactly how is Mr. Bovilsky supposed to find a handful of “undocumented young people” that could be any age from 6 to 20 that may or may not be in the City and the City is supposed to provide services and care for? We don’t know who these kids are, we don’t know when they arrived, and we don’t know where they are, but the City’s going to take care of them?
    And it’s unclear what the City is going to do for them. Unless things have changed dramatically, the foster care system is already strained.
    This is going to be interesting, folks.

  6. Suzanne

    From the press conference yesterday with Governor Malloy where, ostensibly, the subject was coverage of Bond Commission funding, he was peppered with questions about child immigration and this crisis.
    He rejected the Southbury Training School after inspection: it meets none of the criteria for a safe building which includes falling asbestos tiles, lead, mold and no sprinkler system. He also does not believe children should be institutionalized if they can be placed in a family environment. The numbers came from the Federal government and are estimates.
    I would like to think that law does not reign over compassion in our town. These children are ESCAPING violence, hunger and exploitation in very unstable countries. Sending them back, children, to such places simply because they made the very hard trip to save themselves from abuse and even death is not something for which they should be punished. They did not make this trip to the Northeast as a joy ride and to be illegal but to survive.
    I, too, commend the Mayors for coming together and using the best our communities have to offer to help these children. It is the best of us that treats human beings with dignity and compassion.

  7. David

    Human beings cannot be ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’. Our treatment of these children reflects on us, our society. Do we treat them with humanity and civility? Are we human? Are we civil?

  8. Anonymous

    @David: how many are you taking in?

  9. peter parker

    Send them back where they came from. Rilling is delusional!

  10. Bill

    We don’t have the money to educate our own Norwalk kids at decent educational levels, how are we supposed to pay for education, healthcare, housing, and clothing for children whose parents aren’t even in this city paying a dime of taxpayer money for education? This is insane. Sad to say but send them back to their home country.

  11. NorwalkSage

    I agree with Casey Smith. This seems to be a lot of useless chatter based on sketchy information. Instead of the city reaching out to help these newcomers, let them help themselves legally.

  12. The Family Guy

    How revolting to think that Norwalk will be openly fostering the human trafficking of undocumented children from Central and South America.
    This is only going to get worse.

  13. Suzanne

    How revolting that so many people who comment on this thread do not recognize the cause for these childrens’ departure from their home countries nor the difficulties in finding their way to safety in this country. These are CHILDREN, people, doing what they can to SURVIVE. That we cannot show them respect and help? Well, you all have just cut the Statue of Liberty down by the knees.

  14. Pat Ferrandino


    I could not agree with you more. It may be that the many who have voiced their objection to assisting these children in re-settling here may not know their plight. Knowledge is the key ingredient in formulating a credible opinion. Might I recommend that everyone take a little time to gain some knowledge on the causes of the mass diaspora we are witnessing in this country from Latin America? It’s an issue that not going away and it might open some eyes. Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America is a 2012 feature-length documentary film based on the book of the same name, written by journalist Juan González. The movie is good, the book is better.

  15. OhNoNorwalk

    We don’t take care of our own American citizens. Don’t spend a dime on them. Anybody that does should have their asses voted out. Send them back to where they came from. Cut off aid to all those countries . Stop wasting our money on other countries and take care of our own.
    [This comment was edited for vulgarity.]

  16. Tish Gibbs

    Suzanne is right. These children are refugees fleeing gangs and out of control crime on their homelands. Mayor Rilling is right to try to help in any way possible.

  17. Kathleen Montgomery

    Norewalk Lifer, you nailed it. Thanks for your insight.

  18. mi casa es su casa

    senor Obama’s foreign policies are a big reason for the plight of central American freedoms and democracies. Supporting dictators openly against fragile democracies has exacerbated conditions in the region.
    Even after the Hondurans booted their dictator Manuel Zelaya, Hillary Clinton under Obama’s orders was pushing for his reinstatement.
    Supporting democracy and freedom in the region is the only way lives and conditions will improve in central America. Then they won’t have to send their children on a death march here.
    We should feed and clothe them and stop working to destabilize their homelands so that they can return to their families and live in peace. Unfortunately this will take leadership that is non-existent right now.

  19. Norwalk: The Next Bridgeport

    Brace yourselves, folks!

    The roller coast ride of home sales are going to plunge!



  20. Artie Kassimis

    I just returned from a missions trip to Guatemala last week. At no time did we see any kids fearing for their lives. We actually spent much of our downtime playing soccer the kids in a few villages. So my question to the locals was why are kids running to our border. They said that they are being told by the “Mules” (people who transport illegals for money) that the US has opened their borders for kids only…and when the kids get there they will be able to bring their parents. It’s a big business in Guatemala right now. Many families are selling all they have and are paying the “Mules” a hefty sum of money to transport their children to the US. It’s a crime that these innocent people are being lied to.

  21. potaxpayer

    the ideal situation is to send them back to where ever they came from. the american taxpayers need a break for once

  22. Casey Smith

    First of all, if I went into Mexico, Guatamala, Columbia or Equador without any papers or a passport, I would immediately be arrested and thrown in jail because I was there ILLEGALLY.
    Secondly, I’m not buying the refugee line. This article just turned up in my email. It’s from the UK.
    We have heard stories from other friends who have family in Central and South America. They are incredulously that unaccompanied children are being allowed across the border.
    Finally, this is a major slap in the face to many friends who are from other countries, who worked very hard and waited a long time for all the documentation to come to this country LEGALLY. A friend who went back home to the U.K. over the Christmas holidays had to bring a pile of documentation to show that her green card was valid and even then, she got stopped by U.S. Customs when she was on her way home.
    People are saying, “What about the children?” Well, my question is what about the children that are already U.S. Citizens and Norwalk residents. Don’t they count, too?

  23. sofaman

    While murky waters certainly run through Honduran politics Manuel Zelaya was democratically elected, achieved many advances for the poor, and was hauled out of office and out of the country by the military in a coup d’état. His crimes included establishing free school for children and raising the minimum wage. This coup was condemned by the UN, the Organization of American States, the EU, and countless others.

    The US certainly has a difficult past of supporting horribly oppressive governments in central america. Mostly ones ‘owned’ by wealthy landowners who operate like organized crime. Obama, and the rest of the modern world are seeking to repair this history.

    Think of the US, exporting vast amounts of manufacturing to China, then pointing a finger at them for all the resulting pollution. Our ability to deny our culpability in creating problems is legendary. The children pouring across our borders are not too unlike the belching smokestacks in Guangdong. Obviously, the US is not to solely to blame for central america’s or the world’s troubles, but we have the strength to heal lots of the areas’ violence. Right now, the idea of turning our backs on these children, is reprehensible.

  24. Here We Go Again

    Harry, if you want to be a humanitarian, please step down as Mayor of Norwalk and join something like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.
    I for one have heard your spiel often enough when you were chief of police. Enough is enough. Please step down Harry. One Bill Finch in CT is bad enough.

  25. Scott

    If the lifeboat is already filled to capacity and sitting dangerously low in the water you don’t take on more people. Someone needs to survive the ‘Titanic’ disaster to keep it from being a complete tragedy.

  26. mi casa es su casa

    @sofaman. LMFAO. You probably still think you are going to save $2500 on obamacare too? Let’s see who your champions are here? You chose for your heroes fundraiser in chief Obama, a brutal dictator in Zelaya, and the UN who is returning rockets found in their Gazan schools to Hamas….oh and countless other socialist constructs that believe in the destruction of the United States.
    Feed them, clothe them, return them to their families.
    I rest my case.

  27. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    “The New Colossus” is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–87), written in 1883.[2] In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.”

  28. Casey Smith

    Rod –

    I have no problem with the
    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
    But those who came through Ellis Island or the Port of New Jersey (I forget what it was called offhand) had to have 1) someone here in the U.S. who would sponsor them; or 2) be capable of supporting themselves and 3)pass a medical exam. Many of these children are just being shipped here, not knowing a soul and quite a few of them have communicable diseases. There have already been reported outbreaks of scabies already in different parts of the country. And it wasn’t all that long ago that Brien McMahon had a young adult posing as a student who was diagnosed with TB.
    This isn’t hard heartedness on the part of those who object to this whole situation, but simple concern about capacity, and health care resources. There are also serious legal issues involved. There is no easy fix.

  29. ryan

    Again I say illegal.
    Let their own countries deal with the problem.

  30. potaxpayer

    lets vote on illegal immigration with our own money on your taxreturn. if you want illegal imigration amnesty vote yes and have your taxes doubled for the rest of your life to pay for them, if you vote no your taxes go down. lets see how many people will vote yes then. the illegals will be sent home fast. and everybodys taxes will go down.

  31. potaxpayer

    @ suzanne lets start cutting if thats what it takes

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