PASCO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -
Eight on Your side has learned that some of the undocumented kids who've cross the Mexican border have landed in a federally-funded shelter in Pasco County operated by Gulf Coast Jewish Community Services.
"These children have fled persecution at the most terrible level," said Gulf Coast Chief Operating Officer Anne Marie Winter. "Some of them have been human trafficked into this country for sexual slavery."
The shelter has been quietly operating, under what amounts to a gag order from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, for about two months.
Now Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services is asking Pasco County's Planning Commission to double the capacity to 32 beds for undocumented boys ages 8-17 who have crossed the border to reunite with relatives in the U.S.
"These children have no criminal backgrounds they are not in the dependency system they have been vetted for all communicable diseases," said Winter." They are the sweetest children like our own."
Residents at the Aloha Gardens subdivision across the street from the shelter in Holiday have mixed views on hosting what Gulf Coast calls its "safe house."
"Our property values are going to go down and then I don't know if they're going to be wandering around," said neighbor Marie O'Conner.
Another neighbor, Michayla Deane, welcomes the boys.
"I don't think that any human being should be illegal and I think if they're giving them a place to stay and a better life then why not, said Deane."
The governor's office was apparently caught by surprise by the federally-funded shelter until contacted by 8 On Your Side and did not have any immediate response.
Gulf Coast executives consider the shelter a humanitarian response and want no part of the national political controversy swirling around the border kids. But that agency is knee deep in it now after applying to double the capacity of its 16 bed shelter.
Wednesday, the Pasco County Planning Commission put off further discussion until August after raising questions about funding for the program.
Until 8 On Your side started pressing questions Thursday, Gulf Coast was under orders from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to not discuss the program and had to receive permission in writing before talking to us about the benefits of sheltering the undocumented boys in Pasco.
The agency asked 8 On Your side not to disclose the exact address of the shelter to protect the boys from harm since some of them are victims of international human trafficking.
Governor Rick Scott issued this statement about the new influx of young refugees: "We have a humanitarian crisis with thousands of unaccompanied minors on our southern border and the Obama Administration has demonstrated incompetence in their failure to deal with it. The people of Florida, like all Americans, have compassion for the children involved. It's the adults who are failing. If the Obama Administration did its job and secured our borders we would not be in this mess."