If hundreds of migrant children from Central America come to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), they would not mingle with the communities at the base or surrounding areas, representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) told local officials during a conference call Wednesday.
The youths would not go to school at JBLM, or in other communities, a Lakewood spokesman said. Rather, their education would be provided by DHHS at the facility.
DHHS is still evaluating the base as a possible temporary home for about 600 children, part of the surge of unaccompanied, undocumented minors crossing into the United States from Mexico.
A final decision on placing the youths at JBLM has not been made.
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Still, speculation has abounded since DHHS officials announced in June they were considering the military base as temporary home where the children would wait to be processed.
About 50 local, state and federal officials were a part of Wednesday’s conference call.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia; Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson took part, as did staff from the offices of U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
During the conversation, DHHS gave assurances that the unaccompanied minors would not be a problem to health and public safety, said Lakewood communications manager Brent Champaco.
The conference call came in response to a letter the Lakewood mayor sent to Heck, expressing concern that DHHS had not provided information or answered questions about how housing immigrant children at the base might affect surrounding communities.
Champaco said DHHS told them most are teenage boys, ages 12 to 17.
In a written statement Wednesday, Heck said the department assured him and local officials that if the base were chosen, local governments would not be responsible for providing resources.
“Whether at JBLM or other temporary locations, we can’t ignore the ongoing influx of children fleeing conflict in their home countries,” Heck said.
“I am supportive of proposals to provide emergency supplemental funding to allow HHS and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] the ability to operate at a sustainable level to deal with this crisis.”
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors arrived at the border between October and the end of June, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Most — from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Ecuador — are escaping violence, abuse and persecution in their home countries.
According to DHHS, some were brought into the U.S. by human-trafficking rings, while others came to find family members or work to support themselves and their families.
President Obama has called this a humanitarian crisis and has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to deal with the sudden increase of unaccompanied youths at the border.
DHHS already has placed minors at three military bases: Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio; Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif.; and Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla.
Zahra Farah: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org.