A day after Gov. Paul LePage criticized the federal government for sending eight children to Maine after they came to the United States illegally from Central America, state officials say those children probably are staying with Maine families.

Federal officials told Maine that the children probably were placed with the families between January and June this year, according to John Martins, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. Martins said DHHS officials learned Tuesday, the same day as the governor, that the children were in Maine.

It’s not known where the children are or whether they are with their family members, foster families or sponsors.

“No one but Office of Refugee Resettlement at the federal level knows who these children are, where there are, or how placement was arranged,” Martins said in an email Wednesday. “We are working across various state agencies to learn more.”

LePage first raised the issue of the eight children coming to Maine after a conference call between the White House and other governors Tuesday. In a statement sent Tuesday afternoon, he said he was concerned that the temporary resettlement would become a burden to Maine taxpayers and encourage more illegal immigration.

Most of the temporary housing, food and clothing for the unaccompanied children is being funded by the federal government, according to information posted on federal websites.

State agencies typically are not notified of the details of refugee resettlement efforts or the whereabouts of asylum seekers, according to LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

Many states, especially those in the Southwest, have received large numbers of unaccompanied children. Other states not on the Mexican border also have received unaccompanied children without being notified by federal authorities, including Nebraska, which received 200, and Illinois, which received more than 700.

Maine has not been asked to house temporarily any unaccompanied children, according to the governor’s office.

But Bennett said it was important that state agencies and residents know about the children coming here.

“The governor is concerned about these unaccompanied alien children just as many Mainers are,” she said in an email. “Governors need to know whether these unaccompanied alien children have had health and medical assessments, how long they will be staying in their states and how much financial assistance the federal government is going to provide for housing, medical care, education, etc. Maine citizens have the right to know this information as well.”

Having unattended children cross the nation’s southern border is not new. Before 2012, between 7,000 and 8,000 unaccompanied children on average were picked up by border officials each year and processed by immigration courts with little attention.

But those numbers have spiked in recent years. From fiscal 2012 to 2013, the number of unaccompanied children rose from 13,625 to 24,668. This year, 60,000 children are expected to cross the border illegally.

A 2008 law enacted under President George W. Bush requires that unaccompanied youths from countries other than Mexico or Canada be put through deportation proceedings to determine whether they can stay or should be deported. Children from Canada and Mexico, in most cases, are turned away immediately.

Until deportation proceedings take place — which, according to the Associated Press, could take years, given a 350,000-case backlog — children must be held in the least-restrictive environment possible. There are three temporary shelters, in California, Texas and Oklahoma, with a capacity for nearly 3,000 children. The federal government is paying to run the shelters. Many of the children have been placed with family members already in the U.S.

According to the federal DHHS, all the unaccompanied children are given health and mental examinations, as well as vaccinations, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases before they are released into a temporary home. Those with health problems are placed in appropriate settings.

The ongoing border crisis has become a thorny political issue for governors around the country who have been asked by the Obama administration to help relieve overcrowding in U.S. detention facilities. Republican governors have used the crisis to criticize Obama’s immigration policy, while few Democrats have stepped forward to offer temporary shelter to the children.

Maine Republicans highlighted the border crisis on Monday, when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who has agreed to house up to 1,000 children in his state, campaigned in Maine on behalf of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democratic candidate for governor who is running against LePage this fall, along with independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

Obama also has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding for immigration courts and detention facilities. House Republicans have opposed the funding, saying it is too much, and that it must come with changes in the 2008 law to make it easier to deport unaccompanied children. Senate Democrats have opposed changes to the law, instead offering legislation that would allocate more funding for immigration judges, detention facilities and other resources.

LePage has made welfare reform an issue during his term and in his re-election effort. One of his first actions as governor was to issue an executive order to allow state officials to ask about immigration status when people seek assistance. This year, LePage has told municipalities that the state would not reimburse them for General Assistance to “illegal aliens,” even though many arrived in the U.S. on valid visas that expired while they await rulings on their asylum applications.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have provided little information about the placements with sponsors and family members, citing policies that require them to protect the privacy and safety of unaccompanied children, who are detained by border agents after crossing the U.S. border illegally.

“Sponsors are generally family members in the U.S. More than half of sponsors are parents of the minor discharged from the (Unaccompanied Alien Children) program,” said Kenneth Wolfe, the Administration for Children and Families’ deputy director of public affairs.

Wolfe did not respond to questions about whether there would be more placements in Maine.

Neither Catholic Charities, which resettles refugees in Maine on behalf of the federal government, nor the city of Portland, which has an office for refugee services, has been involved the placement of the unaccompanied children, according to officials at both agencies.

Unaccompanied children differ from other categories of immigrants, such as refugees, who come to the U.S. through official resettlement programs; asylum seekers, who typically enter on valid visas; illegal adult immigrants, who cross illegally; and secondary migrants, who are resettled in one state and then move to another.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation said Wednesday they typically are not notified about these placements and learned about the eight only through news media reports Tuesday.

Tuesday’s conference call was initiated by the White House and included officials from several federal agencies to update governors about “the administration’s comprehensive response to the humanitarian situation at the border,” according to the White House press office. That response includes ramping up prosecution of illegal human smuggling networks that further subject the children to violence and abuse, and addressing through diplomatic channels the root causes of the migration, such as violence in their home countries.

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