Government officials deny plan to house immigrant children in Poland

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LEWISTON — A number of agencies and offices named in a Sun Journal story published in Wednesday’s paper told the newspaper they are not working with a woman who has proposed bringing 120 immigrant children to the former Elan School in Poland.

Also Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement opposing the possibility of unaccompanied immigrant children who have crossed the Mexican border into the United States being placed in Poland.

“Rumors have been swirling about whether a large number of unaccompanied alien children may be placed at the former Elan School campus in Poland,” he said. “Despite efforts by our administration, these rumors have not been substantiated by the federal government.”

The administration remains opposed to the placement of such children in Maine, he said.

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Theresa Allocca of Poland has told the town that she is working with federal officials and with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office to bring the children to Poland, where they will be housed and educated at a private school funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

At Tuesday’s selectmen meeting in Poland, Town Manager Bradley Plante read a statement announcing that federal officials plan to house 120 immigrant children at the former school, and that the project was being coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After seeing the Sun Journal report, Kevin Kelley, communications director for Collins, said, “We’re not working with (Allocca) to make this happen,” nor is FEMA.

“There is no orphanage and the federal government is not sending illegal immigrant children to it,” Kelley said.

Spokesmen for the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Maine and U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services also denied that such a proposal is under consideration by their agencies. T

Phone calls to Allocca for comment were not returned Wednesday.

Plante told the Sun Journal on Wednesday that his statement to selectmen and a similar statement he sent to the Regional School Unit 16 board of directors was based on information Allocca provided to the town, and on an email sent to the Androscoggin United Emergency Management Agency from MEMA.

The email outlined Allocca’s proposal, and a MEMA spokeswoman said Wednesday that the email was sent to the Androscoggin EMA as a courtesy based on information they had heard about, but that MEMA had not had any direct contact with Allocca.

According to Plante, Allocca’s idea is “merely a proposal on Theresa’s part. It’s far from being a done deal. And, unless substantial amounts of money become available from somewhere, I don’t see it happening.”

However, he said that because Allocca has asked the town to inspect the property next week to begin the occupancy permit process, the town intends to do the inspection Tuesday.

The property is owned by Dr. Steve Kinney, an Auburn veterinarian. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

According to LePage’s office, after hearing about the possible plan in Poland last week, Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, sent an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking information on whether such plans were in the works.

In that letter to Paul Dioguardi, director of the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Mayhew noted that 12 immigrant children have already been placed in Maine with sponsors, and she requested an updated figure from Dioguardi for current placements. She also asked about any facilities that have been “planned, discussed or proposed” for immigrant children here, because “we want to be actively involved in any plans for Maine.”

The governor’s statement opposing the Poland placement, along with a copy of Mayhew’s letter, was issued just before 4 p.m. Wednesday. In that statement, LePage noted that Mayhew had not yet “received a response or further information from the federal government.”

“While we are very concerned for the health and safety of the children, we hope the federal government provides funding and an appropriate home for them if this plan is real and comes to fruition,” LePage said. “However, since we have no idea who would pay these costs or if there is any health risk to Maine people, we cannot support them coming to Maine.”

According to Ken Wolfe, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. DHHS Administration for Children and Families, his office never got Mayhew’s letter, but after LePage’s statement was released and they became aware of the letter, they called Mayhew to say, “There is not going to be an unoccupied alien children shelter in Maine.”

Wolfe said, “We do not have any plans to use that facility,” nor is there a plan to establish a shelter for immigrant children in Maine.

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