Central Florida won't host long-term migrant children shelter

Department of Health and Human Services no longer considering Central Florida

At sunrise, immigrants are escorted to a tent that serves a dining hall for the U.S. government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas in Carrizo Springs, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Central Florida is no longer going to host a permanent shelter location for migrant children detained at the U.S. southern border, according to U.S. Rep. Val Demings' office.

A spokesperson for Demings said in an email that the Department of Health and Human Services is no longer planning to place a facility for unaccompanied alien children in Central Florida.

Unaccompanied migrant children are those who had arrived alone at the border or were separated from their guardian.

In a statement, a representative for the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families said the department is "no longer conducting exploratory assessments of vacant properties to lease in Atlanta, GA, Northern Virginia, Central Florida, and Los Angeles, CA for potential future use as state-licensed permanent shelter locations for unaccompanied alien children."

Sites in Texas and Arizona are still under consideration for a permanent shelter location, according to the ORR.

Last month, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said a property near the Florida Mall was on a short list of possible locations for one of the Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities.

Central Florida lawmakers and leaders vehemently opposed hosting a long-term facility in the area and called for the reunification of parents and children separated at the border so such housing facilities are not necessary.

"It is unacceptable to continue expanding the appalling and secret child separation and detention system. Children should be with their families," Rep. Val Demings said. "The administration should immediately start reducing the number of children in U.S. custody, not build new detention facilities."

Children who age out of the Office of Refugee Resettlement 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 a letter sent in July to Florida state lawmakers and mayors. As of today, 5,400 children who were detained at the southern border are in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS.

At the end of August, the average length of a minor's stay in one of the shelters was 50 days, down from 93 days in November, according to HHS.

"HHS is committed to further reducing length of care, to deal with capacity issues, in ways that do not jeopardize the safety or welfare of the children," a statement from the department said.

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 on this developing story.

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