Central Florida may host migrant children on long-term basis

Housing facilities could open in spring 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida may house unaccompanied migrant children due to an influx of children being apprehended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the U.S. border, according to a letter sent Monday to Florida state lawmakers and mayors from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the letter, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is considering vacant properties in Virginia, Central Florida and Los Angeles to lease for permanent shelter locations for unaccompanied migrant children.

"Due to the crisis on the southern border, ORR has seen a dramatic increase in referrals of (unaccompanied alien children) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this fiscal year and continues to operate in emergency influx mode," according to the letter. "As of June 2019, DHS has referred over 58,500 (unaccompanied alien children) to ORR, an increase of over 57 percent from the same time period in FY 2018."

The ORR defines "unaccompanied alien children" as children under 18 years old who have no lawful immigration status in the U.S., without a parent or legal guardian in the U.S. or a parent or legal guardian in the U.S. available to provide care and physical custody, according to the letter.

This fiscal year, ORR will care for the largest number of migrant children in the program's history, according to the letter.

ORR Director Jonathan Hayes told CBS News in an interview recently that an unprecedented number of unaccompanied migrant children are at risk of spending the rest of their childhoods in federal custody.

"Unfortunately, I have well over 4,000 of those children in my care at this time at the Office of Refugee Resettlement," Hayes told CBS News in June. "So, conceivably, someone could come into our care at 15 years old and not have an identifiable sponsor in the United States and remain with us for a few years." 

Children who age out of the ORR youth holding facilities on their 18th birthdays may be taken to adult U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

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