Federal government looking at Orlando location for possible migrant shelter

The Department of Health and Human Services is scoping out Orlando for a place to potentially build a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children.

Orlando Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith learned about the plans when Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings sent him a letter. 

“HHS is actually looking at a specific location in the Orlando area,” Smith said.

The letter points to a Travel Lodge on East Landstreet Road as the place of interest. 

Management at the hotel said the government has not notified them about any possible shelter, and they have no plans to do that with their property.

In a letter to the county, HHS wrote that it is looking for a place to house about 500 children. 

Requirements would include bedrooms, classrooms, bathrooms, medical and dining services and multipurpose areas.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, this year, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is caring for the largest number of unaccompanied migrant children in the program's history.

Some lawmakers, like Republican Anthony Sabatini, say these shelters are needed. 

“I’d like to see the shelters built in the home countries where these children are coming from to try to stop the illegal immigration from occurring, but for the children that we have detained that we have here already, we need to make sure they’re in a safe location,” he said. 

Representative Smith, a Democrat, says he doesn’t want to see a facility like this open up in Orlando, or anywhere in the country. 

“These kids need to be either reunited with their parents, or they need to be resettled through a refugee resettlement program with foster parents or another home.”

According to Mayor Demings' letter, the proposed area is commercially zoned, meaning use for a care facility wouldn’t be permitted without an exemption.