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Lakewood seeking more details on shelter for migrant children
Content originally published by The Denver Post on January 12th, 2016.
Lakewood leaders and residents want more details on how federal officials are going to operate a 1,000-bed shelter at the Denver Federal Center for youths who entered the United States from Central America illegally and unaccompanied.
At the City Council's regular meeting Monday night, Councilwoman Ramey Johnson said Lakewood had become "ground zero for the U.S. government's failed immigration and foreign policy" and pledged to "continue to ask the difficult questions."
Johnson said city leaders need to determine the impacts of the facility, which is scheduled to open in a vacant Federal Center warehouse as early as April, on local first responders, law enforcement officials, health care providers and fire protection resources.
"This is not small potatoes," she said.
Sixteen-year Lakewood resident John Fox told the council on Monday that he was concerned about the shelter's potential ramifications.
"Is that going to be a drain on our resources — the city's, the county's?" he asked.
The Lakewood facility has been described as a "temporary" shelter for unaccompanied minors, one of six in the country scheduled to be in operation by spring.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the Office of Refugee Resettlement, on Dec. 30 announced plans for the facility. Questions have come up about the type of accommodations children will have at the center and how it will be staffed. No closing date for the Lakewood building — the nation's largest by bed capacity — has been set.
Several of Johnson's colleagues on council addressed the future facility.
"It is important to make sure that our community is not going to be negatively impacted," Councilwoman Dana Gutwein said. "And I have also heard a lot of outreach from our community wanting to help."
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter spokewoman Ashley Verville on Tuesday said the congressman's priority is to "make sure the facility is safe and secure for the local community and to ensure the facility is in a sanitary, safe and healthy condition for the kids staying there."
She said Perlmutter will host a telephone town hall on the matter at 6 p.m. Jan. 19 and residents will be able to ask questions. Officials from HHS, the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration will participate.
Residents can call Perlmutter's office at 303-274-7944 to sign up for the call.
HHS spokesman Mark Weber on Tuesday emphasized the children will not integrate into the local community, will not attend local schools and are under staff supervision at all times. All costs for running the facility are borne by the federal government, he said.
The average time a child is expected to spend at the facility is 32 days. At that point, HHS transfers him or her to relatives or a sponsor family while a decision is made about whether the child can stay in the country or not.
"HHS operates a network of over 100 shelters in 12 states and has a proven track record of accountability and transparency for program operations, as well as being a good partner to the communities where shelters are located," Weber said.
The impending opening of the Lakewood facility comes at a time when the number of unaccompanied Central American children entering the United States is ticking up after dramatically decreasing from a peak of nearly 57,500 children crossing the border in 2014.
Last fiscal year, nearly 34,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border. Since October, there have been 10,000 crossings, Weber said.