Greenville, SC (Greenville News) -- A rumor that the federal government chose Greenville as a destination for migrant children, as it deals with a wave of unaccompanied minors trekking to the border from Central America, sparked a flurry of inquiries from U.S. lawmakers Thursday. Those lawmakers grew flustered at the lack of response from government agencies about whether South Carolina facilities would be used as temporary shelters.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, both South Carolina Republicans, said they had been stonewalled in their search for answers to exactly where the children were being taken.
Duncan said he hadn't received a response from government agencies despite making six inquiries trying to determine whether migrants are being relocated to South Carolina.
"It is unacceptable for the people's representatives to be denied access to government facilities and important basic information," Duncan said.
Scott's office has reached out to officials at various agencies overseeing the operations to request a full briefing, but it hasn't received any information about plans to house unaccompanied minors in South Carolina, said Sean Conner, Scott's press secretary.
However, Gov. Nikki Haley's office told The Greenville News on Thursday that she has been assured by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that there are no plans to house the unaccompanied children in South Carolina.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Haley asked "that if those plans are developed at any point going forward that you personally notify me immediately of any shift in policy."
"It is my firm belief that the people of South Carolina have the right to know exactly who the federal government is placing within our borders."
Rumors of migrants secretly being transported to South Carolina are triggering a series of protests this weekend across the state, including in Greenville.
Protests have also been listed for Charleston, Columbia, Florence and Myrtle Beach, according to the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee, a national group based in Raleigh, North Carolina, that has scheduled protests across the country this weekend based on the influx of unaccompanied children who are making their way into the country.
William Gheen, president of ALIPAC, said a protest has been organized for Greenville, though he couldn't confirm a time or place.
He said it's based on a call he received from an "illegal immigration fighter" in Greenville who said they had found a location on White Horse Road that they suspected was being used to shelter migrants.
Gheen said the Greenville protest will be held at that location on White Horse Road about one block north of the fairgrounds from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday.
Federal and state officials echoed Haley's letter and said there is no indication that migrants are being flown or transported by bus to the Palmetto State in the wake of the immigration crisis.
The Greenville County Sheriff's Office has received no reports of unaccompaniedchildren being transported into the county, said spokesman Drew Pinciaro.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn't have any detention facilities in South Carolina. It maintains detention centers for single adults, but those are located in Georgia, said Vincent Picard, ICE spokesman.
"ICE has not received any transfers of migrant families or unaccompanied children in the state of South Carolina, nor is the agency aware of any future plans to do so," Picard said.
Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said facilities are being identified in locations across the country as potential sites to allow HHS to provide medical care and shelter to the influx of migrant children.
Wolfe said facilities would be announced when they are identified as viable options.
Groups involved in the immigration debate here said they haven't received any information about shelters being used in South Carolina to house unaccompanied children.
The rumors of migrants being bused to the state is just a tactic to drive partisan rhetoric to kill immigration reform, said Laura Cahue with the S.C. Immigration Coalition.
Children have been fleeing Central American counties in droves, making their way by foot or riding on top of trains to border towns where they cross the Rio Grande and turn themselves over to U.S. Border Patrol agents.
They're fleeing violence in Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador, countries with murder rates that rank among the highest in the world. And they're spurred on by hope that once they reach the U.S., they will be allowed to stay.
Since October, more than 52,000 children have been collected after crossing the Mexican border without an adult, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Three-quarters of those children came from the three Central American countries, they reported. Of those, 58 percent said their main reason for fleeing their home country was violence, according to a study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it's unacceptable to change U.S. policy to speed Central American kids home faster from the border without court hearings.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said the change would take due process rights away from children who have been arriving at the border by the tens of thousands.
The public does favor a shift in U.S. policy to expedite the legal processing of the children, a new survey found.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 8-14 among 1,805 adults, finds that 53 percent think that the legal process for dealing with Central American children who cross the border illegally should be accelerated, even if that means that some children who are eligible for asylum are deported.
Thirty-nine percent support staying with the current policy, even though the process could take a long time and the children will stay in the U.S. in the interim.
Many Republican lawmakers are demanding the policy change as their price for supporting any part of the president's nearly $4 billion emergency spending bill for the border crisis.
Menendez's comments at a committee hearing Thursday are the latest sign that a solution will be hard to reach with Democrats and Republicans issuing competing demands.
The border crisis may also have killed any attempt for broad immigration reform this year, said Matthew Blanton, Carolina mobilizer with the Evangelical Immigration Table, a nationwide organization of religious leaders working to craft bipartisan immigration policy changes.
"The issue with the border and children has brought immigration back up to the public consciousness in a way that it hasn't been in the past few years and in a really negative way with a lot of fear and a lot of anger and hate," Blanton said.
Working with religious groups, Blanton said his immediate goal is that the children will be treated with compassion.
Gheen, with ALIPAC, said his group had turned back buses in Murietta, California, and Oracle, Arizona, in recent days and "that is a phenomena that we hope to repeat across the nation."
Gheen said the flood of unaccompanied children had been summoned to the border as "political weapons" of those who support amnesty for migrants.
Cahue said unaccompanied minors fleeing drug-related violence is a separate issue from migrants coming from Mexico in search of work. This is a humanitarian issue where many of these children would qualify as refugees, she said.
And the administration's efforts to find temporary places to shelter children while they're processed and court hearings are scheduled isn't "granting them stay in the United States," Cahue said.
It's a result of our own laws — passed under the Bush administration — and is "in line with our American values of compassion for anyone," she said.
"Because they are children, we cannot just house them in detention centers where we house adults."
Contributing: Associated Press