Unaccompanied minors from Central and South America will not be temporarily housed at a pair of U.S. Navy airfields in rural Baldwin County, according to a letter from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to county commissioners.
In the letter, HHS Regional Director Pamela Roshell wrote the outlying fields in the Baldwin communities of Silverhill and Josephine are on a list with six other locations no longer being considered. The letter said HHS will instead assess property located in Dona Ana, New Mexico, for potential use as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children.
According to HHS, unaccompanied children apprehended at the southern border would have been housed in semipermanent shelters at the sites as they are processed through the immigration court system before their eventual release, once the federal government connects them with a family member or a close family friend who can serve as guardian.
Baldwin County Commissioners strongly opposed the plan, sending multiple letters to HHS in opposition and hosting a conference call with representatives from the federal government during a public work session last month. Commissioners cited the lack of infrastructure in place at the airfields along with logistical problems in the event of a mandatory hurricane evacuation as reasons the children should not be housed in Baldwin County.
“The issues that have led HHS/ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] to determine these sites are unsuitable won’t change this year or the year after that,” Commissioner Chris Elliott said this week. “We’ll still have the same infrastructure problems at these sites and we’ll still have hurricane issues that will make these sites poor locations for unaccompanied minor children.”
Elliott said the county will monitor what HHS does going forward.
“The likelihood of HHS/ORR reaching a different conclusion about these sites in five years will be pretty slim,” he said. “The Baldwin County sites will still be a bad choice for housing unaccompanied minor children.”
Typically children remain in the program an average of 30 days. Roughly 90 percent of the children apprehended at the southern border come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Rep. Bradley Byrne also opposed the plan from the start, saying military airfields are unsuitable for the temporary housing of children.
“Military airfields in Southwest Alabama are not the place to house illegal migrant children, and I am glad the Obama administration finally realized that,” Byrne said in a statement. “My office, along with other Alabama leaders, have worked hard to block this outrageous proposal, and I am pleased our efforts have been successful.”
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