Desperate to figure out what to do with thousands of illegal immigrants that have been apprehended at the U.S. border, the federal government has created an email address to gather leads on facilities that could be used to house them.
The plea, contained in an email sent by Tara Corrigan of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and obtained by Los Angeles’s KFI News, also provides insight into how the Obama administration is helping coordinate the massive surge of illegal immigrants, which it calls an “unprecedented event.”
“Given that one of the challenges [the Department of Health and Human Services] HHS is facing is finding suitable facilities for unaccompanied children, I wanted to forward this e-mail from [Federal Emergency Management Agency] FEMA below to see if you all have folks in your networks that know of suitable facilities in your area,” reads Corrigan’s email, which she sent to local lawmakers on July 3.
According to the White House website, Corrigan works as a liaison between the White House and attorneys general and state legislators.
The White House’s coordination is needed to address a massive surge of child immigrants — many of whom travel to the U.S. without their parents — who have been apprehended at the southern U.S. border.
Between Oct. 1 and June 15, 52,000 unaccompanied children — most of whom are from Central America — have been apprehended. FEMA is heading the overall effort while HHS, through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, is in charge of finding temporary housing for them.
“As you are aware, there has been an increase in the number of very young children making this journey,” reads FEMA’s email, forwarded by Corrigan. “This is an unprecedented event that requires unique approaches to temporarily house children until they can be discharged to a sponsor while awaiting judicial proceedings.”
Instead of returning the children to their home countries, U.S. immigration policy requires that they be turned over to HHS. The agency then houses them until they can be placed with a sponsor or relative.
In its email, FEMA says that it has received a number of suggestions and offers of shelter options.
“To facilitate these offers of assistance, we have created a central e-mail account to manage such requests,” the email continues.
FEMA also provides a list of requirements that facilities must meet in order to be considered for use.
They must be within 50 miles of a major city — defined as having a population of more than 200,000 — and be near an airport.
The facilities must also be at least 90,000 square feet in size, with each resident requiring at least 80 square feet of space.
It has to be leasable and “move-in ready.” Ideal building types include empty office areas, box stores, warehouses, shopping malls, aircraft hangers, hotels and dorms.
The FEMA email also lists such amenities as showers, toilets, kitchen and cafeteria space, recreational space and educational facilities as preferable but not required. “Climate-controlled” facilities are also preferred, but not required.
So far, HHS has placed thousands of unaccompanied children at three military installations — Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and Ventura County Naval Base in California.
Besides those locations, the agency has struggled to find other large housing facilities, either because of local opposition or because the facilities were deemed unsuitable for use. Last month, residents of Lawrenceville, Virginia forced HHS officials to back off of a plan to send hundreds of unaccompanied children to St. Paul’s College. Residents of two California towns, Escondido and Murietta, have recently voiced their opposition to similar plans.
Requests for comment sent to Corrigan and FEMA were not immediately returned.