Central Florida among sites for child migrant facilities

The Trump administration is scouting sites for future facilities to hold unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent letters to Florida lawmakers Monday saying it is looking for vacant properties in those locations to build permanent licensed facilities for children under age 18 who have entered the United State illegally without a parent or guardian.

The permanent sites will minimize the need for unlicensed temporary detention centers, according to the letter.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, is in disbelief of the email, which she said she received late Monday night.  

"When I first saw the email this morning, I was shocked and surprised that this kind of announcement would just come through a late night email sent on a Monday," Rep. Eskamani said. 

The email is from the department's Office of Refugee Resettlement, letting lawmakers know they are exploring central Florida as a place to possibly open a migrant detention camp for children. Los Angeles and Virginia are also on that list.  Rep. Eskamani said her constituents have made it pretty clear they don't want these facilities here.  

"We've already had two different rallies the public organized opposing these camps. Wanting to close these camps," Eskamani said.

According to the email, the ORR will lease the properties and build them out to meet the state licensure requirements and bring a service provider to operate them according to ORR policy and procedures.  

"Who's going to pay for that? Will it be the tax payers paying for something we oppose?" Eskamani asked, referring to the vagueness of the email she received.  

She said she has spoken with her colleagues in south Florida, where there is a temporary migrant detention camp.  

"They're helpless in what they can do. They visit these centers as watching the fence. They can't go inside," said Rep. Eskamani.  

If Central Florida is picked to house a migrant detention camp for unaccompanied alien children, Rep. Eskamani wants to be able to have some oversite.   

"If lawmakers could visit these places unannounced and actually talk to the unaccompanied minors one on one and be able to ensure that there's good health care, that there's access to good food, that folks are not having the lights on 24/7, which are literally stories we're hearing in other camps," said Eskamani.

The proposed facilities will be state licensed with occupancy set for spring 2020. Unlike other facilities, the department won't rely on contractors' own ready-to-go properties. Instead, the department's Office of Refugee Resettlement will lease the properties, build them out to meet state licensure requirements and bring in a service provider to operate them according to state licensure requirements, the letter said.

Eskamani added that she reached out to the ORR, trying to get more specific information on where the center could go and when this could happen.  So did The News Station.  She hasn't received a response with additional information yet, and neither have we.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.