An Iowa Latino leader says several children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who crossed into the U.S. along the southern border are now living in Iowa, but their arrival has been kept quiet to avoid controversy.

“There’s a number of Latino families who have extended family members who are in those three countries, so they have been driving down to Texas and elsewhere to pick up those children and bring them back,” Joe Henry, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, told Radio Iowa today. “But they’re keeping this kind of secret right now because our governor has not embraced this effort.”

Just this past Monday Governor Terry Branstad repeated his opposition to having any of the unaccompanied kids who came into the U.S. from Central America placed in Iowa.

“I’m very empathetic for these teenagers and kids, but they’ve come here illegally and it would be wrong for us to send a signal: if you come here illegally, we’re going to just disperse you throughout the country and you don’t have to go home,” Branstad said. “…The country can’t afford that and I’m not the only governor that’s taken that stand.”

State and federal officials now confirm up to 139 undocumented children from Central America were relocated to Iowa in the past six and a half months. According to Henry, many of the children need mental health counseling because of the violence they were subjected to before they got to the U.S., but he said the governor’s stand makes that difficult.

“Actually what the governor’s been doing is he has been creating a chilling effect on the whole process, so things are being done behind the scenes,” Henry said.

Henry calls the unaccompanied children refugees. Branstad calls them law breakers.

“The problem’s been caused by the federal government and the administration’s unwillingness or inability to secure the border and protect American citizens against the influx of illegals,” Branstad said Monday.

A spokesman for Branstad says the federal government didn’t notify state officials when these immigration children were being placed in Iowa. After questions from reporters this week, the governor’s staff confirmed nearly 12 dozen unaccompanied kids had been placed in Iowa homes since the beginning of the year, but “it remains unclear” whether all those children are from Central America. Jimmy Centers, Branstad’s spokesman, says the governor is concerned the situation “may encourage others to attempt the very dangerous journey across Central America and Mexico.”