Government eyes property near Florida mall to house migrant children

Florida, U.S. lawmakers ask Gov. DeSantis to intervene

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ORLANDO, Fla. – A property near the Florida Mall is on the short list of possible locations to house unaccompanied migrant children detained at the southern U.S. border, according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

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 in July to Florida state lawmakers and mayors.

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.

One of those such locations is 1850 W. Landstreet Road in Orlando, according to a letter Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings sent Friday to Florida and U.S. lawmakers and senators. In the letter, Demings said  the county had received an inquiry from the General Services Administration for the property. GSA is searching for properties or leases on behalf of the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Demings told News 6 he opposes a child detention center coming to Central Florida.

"I would not want that kind of division in our community," the mayor said.

However, the property is currently zoned for commercial use, and use for permanent housing would not be permitted without rezoning, according to the letter. Currently, a Travelodge hotel is located on that property.

"The proposed shelter would likely be classified as a Residential Care Facility, which would require a special use permit in the C-1 zoning district," Demings wrote. "The process involves a public hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners."

Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, whose district includes Orlando, said Orange County's elected leaders wouldn't approve the zoning changes.

"I can tell you right now that is not going to happen," Guillermo Smith said.

Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez echoed that sentiment saying local leaders "will fight you to the end."

File: READ- Mayor Demings letter to lawmakers

Management at the hotel told News 6 they have not been notified of any such facility. It's possible that address could not be the intended location of the migrant detention center.

"There is an abandoned property across the street that appears to be more to the federal government's liking," Guillermo Smith said.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said the selection process has been "shrouded in secrecy."

"We've been given rough approximations of where this facility will be," Soto said. "We have many levels of government that haven't been informed."

Soto, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees HHS, said he and his fellow committee members will be "grilling HHS over the details of this. Thus far, they have been less than forthcoming," he said.

Florida lawmakers, Kissimmee mayor and nonprofit representatives call on Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop the federal government from housing migrant children in Florida. (Image: WKMG)

On Monday, Soto, Guillermo Smith, and Florida Reps. Linda Stewart and Anna Eskamani called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to intervene and prevent a permanent shelter from being located in Orange County or anywhere in Florida.

Stewart said she believes the "indefinite detention" of children is illegal. Her fellow Democratic lawmakers and elected officials are calling for the reunification of parents and children separated at the border so such housing facilities are not necessary.

"There shouldn't be any child detention facilities in the U.S.," Smith said. "It is a false choice to respond with more inhumane and cruel treatment."

[Fact sheet: Unaccompanied Alien Children Program ]

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.

Currently, the ORR has 170 facilities in 23 states, according to the letter. As of July 22, 10,000 children who were detained at the southern border are in the care of the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program fact sheet.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security began working to obtain 16-month leases for permanent shelters throughout the U.S. that would begin in spring 2020.

Check back for updates.

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