Lake­wood asks about youth cen­ter ops

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Aguilar John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, jaguilar@den­ver­post.com or @abu­vthe­fold

Lake­wood lead­ers and res­i­dents want more de­tails on how fed­eral of­fi­cials are go­ing to op­er­ate a 1,000-bed shel­ter at the Den­ver Fed­eral Cen­ter for youths who en­tered the United States from Cen­tral Amer­ica il­le­gally and un­ac­com­pa­nied.

At the City Coun­cil’s reg­u­lar meet­ing Mon­day night, Coun­cil­woman Ramey John­son said Lake­wood had be­come “ground zero for the U.S. govern­ment’s failed im­mi­gra­tion and for­eign pol­icy” and pledged to “con­tinue to ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions.”

John­son said city lead­ers need to de­ter­mine the im­pacts of the fa­cil­ity, which is sched­uled to open in a va­cant Fed­eral Cen­ter ware­house as early as April, on lo­cal first re­spon­ders, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, health care providers and fire pro­tec­tion re­sources.

“This is not small pota­toes,” she said.

Six­teen-year Lake­wood res­i­dent John Fox told the coun­cil on Mon­day that he was con­cerned about the shel­ter’s po­ten­tial ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

“Is that go­ing to be a drain on our re­sources — the city’s, the county’s?” he asked.

The Lake­wood fa­cil­ity has been de­scribed as a “tem­po­rary” shel­ter for un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors, one of six in the coun­try sched­uled to be in op­er­a­tion by spring.

Of­fi­cials at the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, which op­er­ates the Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment, on Dec. 30 an­nounced plans for the fa­cil­ity. Ques­tions have come up about the type of ac­com­mo­da­tions chil­dren will have at the cen­ter and how it will be staffed. No clos­ing date for the Lake­wood build­ing — the na­tion’s largest by bed ca­pac­ity — has been set.

Sev­eral of John­son’s col­leagues on coun­cil ad­dressed the fu­ture fa­cil­ity.

“It is im­por­tant to make sure that our com­mu­nity is not go­ing to be neg­a­tively im­pacted,” Coun­cil­woman Dana Gutwein said. “And I have also heard a lot of out­reach from our com­mu­nity want­ing to help.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perl­mut­ter spoke­woman Ash­ley Verville on Tues­day said the con­gress­man’s pri­or­ity is to “make sure the fa­cil­ity is safe and se­cure for the lo­cal com­mu­nity and to en­sure the fa­cil­ity is in a san­i­tary, safe and healthy con­di­tion for the kids stay­ing there.”

She said Perl­mut­ter will host a tele­phone town hall on the mat­ter at 6 p.m. Jan. 19 and res­i­dents will be able to ask ques­tions. Of­fi­cials from HHS, the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion will par­tic­i­pate.

Res­i­dents can call Perl­mut­ter’s of­fice at 303-274-7944 to sign up for the call.

HHS spokesman Mark We­ber on Tues­day em­pha­sized the chil­dren will not in­te­grate into the lo­cal com­mu­nity, will not at­tend lo­cal schools and are un­der staff su­per­vi­sion at all times. All costs for run­ning the fa­cil­ity are borne by the fed­eral govern­ment, he said.

The av­er­age time a child is ex­pected to spend at the fa­cil­ity is 32 days. At that point, HHS trans­fers him or her to rel­a­tives or a spon­sor fam­ily while a de­ci­sion is made about whether the child can stay in the coun­try or not.

“HHS op­er­ates a net­work of over 100 shel­ters in 12 states and has a proven track record of ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency for pro­gram op­er­a­tions, as well as be­ing a good part­ner to the com­mu­ni­ties where shel­ters are lo­cated,” We­ber said.

The im­pend­ing open­ing of the Lake­wood fa­cil­ity comes at a time when the num­ber of un­ac­com­pa­nied Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren en­ter­ing the United States is tick­ing up af­ter dra­mat­i­cally de­creas­ing from a peak of nearly 57,500 chil­dren cross­ing the bor­der in 2014.

Last fis­cal year, nearly 34,000 un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors crossed the bor­der. Since Oc­to­ber, there have been 10,000 cross­ings, We­ber said.

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