ORLANDO, Fla. — President Trump's administration is looking at sites in Orlando and the surrounding areas for a new permanent facility to house unaccompanied migrant children.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it's looking at a large swatch of Central Florida that includes Orlando and a chunk of the Interstate 4 corridor. The map shows the areas being considered include Lakeland, Kissimmee, Orlando and Leesburg.
“I hear nothing about it, because you know, this is all done with US Department of Health and Human Services. They pick sites,” said Gov. DeSantis. “So, it’s just like if you, as a business wanted to lease or buy someplace or whatever. And then they operate the facility and the state does not get involved in that at all.”
The facility would house about 500 migrant children and provide shelter and food needs along with outdoor recreation space, the DHHS said. The department said space offers are due in October, and the facility could accept migrant children as soon as November 2020.
The letter said the Office of Refugee Resettlement "has seen a dramatic increase in referrals of" unaccompanied children from the Department of Homeland Security. The ORR said it's operating in "emergency influx mode."
In a statement to 10News, the DHHS said:
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in HHS’ Administration for Children and Families is conducting exploratory assessments of vacant properties in Virginia, Central Florida, and Los Angeles to lease for potential future use as state-licensed permanent shelter locations for unaccompanied alien children (UAC). The search for an addition of permanent licensed facilities is being pursued to reduce the potential need for unlicensed temporary influx shelters in the future.
All publicly available information on leasing opportunities can be found on the Fedbizopps website athttps://www.fbo.gov/.
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, says she opposes the idea and location.
“I have very severe reservations about anything that Trump administration is proposing to detain children,” said Castor. “Because we know their history of ripping kids away from their families.”
The government is looking at an enormous area that includes the entire Orlando region and eastern parts of Tampa Bay including Davenport, Polk City and Lakeland.
Polk County and cities like Lakeland turned out big for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and many in the region still support the administration’s immigration policies.
But when it comes to this particular issue, residents have mixed feelings.
“I don’t think we need the extra spotlight,” said Gabrielle, grabbing lunch in downtown Lakeland. “Honestly, we’re just trying to get this community settled and beautiful.”
“It’s a place with a big heart,” said longtime resident Aaron Hoke. “I honestly think this town could help.”
A spokesman for the City of Lakeland said it’s unclear whether a property exists in their jurisdiction that would fit the requirements.
The government is looking for 100,000 square feet, 275 parking spaces and a 15-year lease.
Polk County says if the federal government finds a place with the right zoning, they won’t need the county’s approval. But any code changes would require public input. And there seems to be no shortage of that.
“I think it would be great,” said Tammy Barnett, another long-time Lakeland resident. “Anything to help kids, that would be wonderful.”
Mark Oestreich, who’s lived in Lakeland since 1966, says he doesn’t oppose the idea, but has concerns about what might come along with the facility.
“You can’t just bring in the kids by themselves,” he said, “There’s always going to be something added to the mix. It’s great about the kids, but you sometimes wonder what else comes with it. And how that would affect the community.”
The government says the facility would need 500 staffers, enough room for 63 caseworker stations, 83 bathrooms, 42 clinical offices, classrooms and indoor recreation space.
The deadline for leasing bids is October, with the goal of opening sometime in November 2020.
Earlier this month, federal government sources told the Miami Herald that the Homestead detention center for migrant children could reopen as soon as October.
The DHHS said in July that unaccompanied minors were no longer being sent to the facility in South Florida, and a spokesperson said the number of children crossing the border was down.
As of Aug. 3, DHHS said all children at the facility had either been reunited with family, linked with a sponsor or transferred to a different facility.
The Herald reported a source said, "Homestead is not closed. There will be kids back at the center, it's just a matter of when."
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