Some Democratic lawmakers in Maryland, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, are expressing concern and skepticism for the Obama administration’s plan to house minors who entered the U.S. illegally in a vacated federal building in Baltimore.
The administration has its sights set on a 1.1 million square foot office complex that was vacated by the Social Security Administration earlier this year, according to The Baltimore Sun.
It will be used to house an untold number of minors — called “unaccompanied children” — who came to the U.S. illegally and without their parents.
A number of questions have been raised by the plan, including concerns about the children’s safety and how long the makeshift facilities will house them.
“Senator Cardin has some serious reservations if this is, indeed, going to happen,” said Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky, The Baltimore Sun reports. “He thinks that the welfare of the children has to be the first priority and he doesn’t believe that this location lends itself to that purpose.”
Some worry that the unaccompanied children, most of whom range in age from 13 to 17 years old, are easy targets for human traffickers and gangs. In the past, immigrants kept in refugee-style settings have fallen victim to criminals.
The Obama administration sees the makeshift housing as necessary after a heavy influx of the minors overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol and Immigrant and Customs Enforcement agents in southern Texas.
There, immigrants from Central America — mostly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — have attempted to enter the country through the Rio Grande Valley.
Unaccompanied minors from those countries pose a special problem because U.S. immigration policy dictates that the apprehended youth be put through deportation proceedings rather than just turning them away at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Instead, they are held by federal agencies until they can be placed with family members or flown back home.
The level of immigration from Central America has increased greatly over the past few years, as has the number of apprehended unaccompanied children. Fives times as many were caught in 2013 compared to 2011. The number has increased 92 percent so far this year, to around 47,000 apprehensions.
The administration has already announced the placement of thousands of the children at U.S. military installations.
Hundreds of the minors have been kept at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for the last several weeks. Plans have also been announced to send hundreds or perhaps thousands to Ventura County Naval Base in California and Fort Sill, an army base near Lawton, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin a Republican, worried that the housing plan would not live up to its temporary billing. (RELATED: Plan To House Young Illegal Immigrants On Military Bases Riles Lawmakers)
A Baltimore Democrat shared a similar concern, since the vacated building in Baltimore is located near a $152 million industrial project that will hopefully generate the local economy.
“Clearly, that site is incredibly important — given its sheer size — to the continued revitalization of the area,” said City Councilman William H. Cole IV, according to The Sun.
“This would certainly be not, in any way, what I would think would be the highest and best use for this facility,” said Cole, whose district houses the large office building.