MILWAUKEE – State Rep. David Craig would have to pay Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office close to $50 an hour to comply with an open records request to determine local plans for hundreds of undocumented child immigrants that soon may be coming to Wisconsin — and others that are already here.
Although the Republican lawmaker from Vernon finds it important to obtain that information, he doesn’t intend on paying that “absurd” amount, according to his spokeswoman, Jessica Ward.
“While we would love to see those records and the representative would love to see those, he thinks that they should be distributed for far less than that, and he shouldn’t have to bear the cost, and neither should the taxpayers of Wisconsin,” Ward told Wisconsin Reporter.
Craig filed open records requests July 28 with Barrett and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, both Democrats, because he says the Obama administration and other government officials haven’t been openly communicating with state lawmakers and agencies on the local repercussions of the border crisis.
Soglin’s staff had not responded to that inquiry as of Friday morning, Ward said.
“I want to get as much information as I can, and the only way to do that, I think right now, is under open records law, to find out if there is some type of information in there laying out a plan on how many individuals they are looking at over the course of the near- or long-term,” Craig told Wisconsin Reporter.
Barrett, Soglin, the Milwaukee chapter of Catholic Charities and Milwaukee Public Schools have been contacted by the federal government to look for shelters to temporarily house up to 550 undocumented children, many of whom illegally crossed the Mexican border from Central America.
At least 50 unaccompanied immigrant minors already have been placed in the care of parents or relatives in Wisconsin since Jan. 1, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Megan O’Connor, constituent relations manager for Barrett’s office, responded to Craig’s request Wednesday, estimating it will take approximately 9.48 hours to locate all the responsive records at a projected cost of $436.17. The hourly wage of the employee who would conduct the search is $46.01, Craig said.
“It appears the presumption that tax dollars already pay for the time of the public servant who fulfills the request is not a belief the mayor’s office holds,” Craig told Wisconsin Reporter. “Such a dollar figure is ridiculous and deliberately high without justification.”
The rate for an actual, necessary and direct charge for staff time in retrieving requested records should be based on the wage of the lowest paid employee capable of performing the task, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s public records law compliance outline.
Other states’ open records laws have similar provisions.
Requests for comment from Barrett’s office were not returned.
Craig and three other Republican state lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, wrote a letter July 24 asking the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its request for Wisconsin to shelter hundreds of unaccompanied child immigrants.
Among the state representatives’ concerns are potential health risks, a drain on local and state budgets and a lack of transparency by the Obama administration.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and the state Department of Health Services have never been contacted by the federal government concerning the unaccompanied minors, spokespersons for those agencies confirmed.
Joe Scialfa, communications director for DCF, told Wisconsin Reporter the undocumented children could become involved in the state’s Child Welfare Program if there are reports of suspected maltreatment.
But Scialfa acknowledged there’s no way to estimate the potential expense to local taxpayers because the costs for services vary dramatically based upon the needs of each individual child.
Some unaccompanied minors also may be eligible for emergency medical care through BadgerCare Plus, according to Claire Smith, communications specialist for the Wisconsin DHS.
If an undocumented child becomes a qualified immigrant or an American citizen, they could be accepted into the BadgerCare Plus program if their income is less than the defined limit and they meet other requirements, Smith said.
The average cost to send a child to a public school in Wisconsin is more than $11,000 per year, according to the latest public education finance report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Authored by Adam Tobias