(CNN) - After his strong criticism of the Obama administration's plans to return thousands of young undocumented migrants back to Central America, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley asked a top White House official that the children not be sent to a site that was under consideration in his home state, sources familiar with the conversation said.
"He privately said 'please don't send these kids to Western Maryland,'" a Democratic source told CNN. The heated discussion between O'Malley and White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz occurred during a phone call late Friday evening, sources familiar with the conversation added.
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A potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, O'Malley surprised some in his party when he sharply criticized a White House proposal to give new legal authorities to the Department of Homeland Security to expedite the deportation of the unaccompanied minors and their families.
“We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death,” O’Malley said last week at a National Governors Association meeting in Nashville.
Instead, the governor urged the administration to show compassion toward the children, describing some of the facilities where the young detainees are being kept as "kennels."
“Through all of the great world religions we are told that hospitality to strangers is an essential human dignity,” O’Malley said.
Hours after making those remarks, O'Malley expressed concerns to Munoz about a proposal under consideration by the Department of Health and Human Services to convert a former Army Reserve Center in Westminster, Maryland to house the children.
A senior O'Malley administration official confirmed the conversation took place. But the official stressed O'Malley did not reject the idea of temporarily housing some of the children in other parts of the state.
"Governor O’Malley and his administration are working cooperatively with federal officials to find suitable locations in Maryland for unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America," said O'Malley press secretary Nina Smith. "As he has said repeatedly, he believes the priority should be placing children with family members and–if that’s not possible–locating housing that is safe, humane, and non-restrictive," she added.
The HHS plan stirred up outrage among local elected officials in Maryland, including Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, whose office cited "potential health risks" to the surrounding community.
"Flying them to Maryland only to turn around and fly them back home is nonsensical. Instead, President Obama should immediately return them to their nation of origin," Harris said in a statement.
HHS has since scuttled the plan for the Western Maryland site, an O'Malley official said.
In response to O'Malley's comments, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday some of the unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the United States from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in recent months may ultimately be allowed to stay in the country, if they can qualify for asylum status.
Migrants from Central America and other non-contiguous nations are granted special legal protections that allow them to plead their case to an immigration court, under a 2008 law designed to prevent human trafficking.
“If an immigration judge determines that they face a credible threat of death upon their return to their home country, then again, I’m not an immigration judge, but it is likely that the immigration judge will find that that person should be granted humanitarian relief,” Earnest said.
A senior O'Malley administration official acknowledged the governor's comments last Friday irritated senior White House officials, prompting the call from Munoz to O'Malley.
But the governor's press secretary emphasized O'Malley has offered Obama administration officials his state's assistance in dealing with the crisis.
“Governor O’Malley has been discussing this issue for weeks with the White House, he has helped identify ways Maryland can assist with this humanitarian crisis, and he has directed the Maryland Department of Human Resources to take the steps necessary to find licensed providers who might be able to care for these children in Maryland," Smith said.
CNN’s David Chalian contributed to this report.
What happens to all the other children left behnd in C.A.? What about the other billions of children all over the World who live in less than ideal conditions? What about the billions of adults living under the same conditions? The only fair and humane thing is to bring them all in. We could bring the billions all in give them enough stuff to make things all equal for all of the billions. It's what is humane and fair. We could just dissolve all borders and governments, just make it one big happy apple pie, with everyone equal, everyone have all the same stuff. Just confiscate all the stuff then redistribute it all eqally to all the billions of people so that everyone comes out exactly equal. With no borders or governments everyone would be free to live and go where they want.
Wow, what a tool. And I thought he was viable candidate for president.
typica lib. i agree with the obama agenda unless it will happen in my back yard. Send these kids back let them make their own country better.
Another typical liberal demonstrating hypocrisy.
Let me sound compassionate in public (which is really about making myself look good politically) but make sure that position doesn't impact me (which he does privately)
Stop the immigration of illegals...send 'em back where they come from. We cannot afford to feed, house, educate them and I notice nobody has said exactly how they are going to do so...seems to me they are mum about it for a reason...they think we are stupid and will not notice. They are wrong. Stop illegal immigration with whatever means are available.
As an immigrant myself and notarized American citizen. I would like to say, I don't blame those People ,who try to escape from their native coutries, only corrupt politicians and leaders are blame for. The breaking Law of Sovereign country is not an answer either.
another brilliant comment brought to you by a political clown liar -– btw send all these illegals back--no papers NO ENTRY
This mick should adopt a few of these illegals, if he feels so strongly about them. He could pass them off as black Irish....
nimby, typical Dem
The governor is playing both sides of the fence, just like 99% of our politicians.
The government is not doing its job. It has become absurd now.