LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side has confirmed the federal government is exploring Florida’s I-4 corridor as a possible site for a new shelter for undocumented migrant children.
Documents were filed with the Department of Health and Human Services early this month and lack details about the Central Florida sites being considered. The documents show the swath of land under consideration stretches from Lakeland to Kissimmee to Orlando to Leesburg.
The online listing says the facility would be approximately 100,000 square feet and would be staffed by 500 employees. The General Services Administration plans to house 500 children at the facility.
A spokesperson for Polk County confirmed they have received a request for proposal from the government asking for bids to lease space. But they did not specify what, if any, locations have been offered up.
“If the proposed location has an existing land use designation that allows such a facility, then the landowners can proceed without prior approval by the county,” Polk County Commission Chairman George Lindsey III said. “If the land use is not permissive for their intended use, they will have to follow the land development code process, which may require a public hearing.”
State Rep. Melony Bell, who represents parts of Polk County, released a statement Monday saying she believes the facility would have a positive impact in her district.
“As a state representative, I would welcome a facility to be built in my district because it is our humanitarian responsibility to take care of the unaccompanied immigrant children,” she said. “Also, my district is heavily populated with migrant workers due to our large agriculture community. It would have a positive impact and would create over 500 permanent jobs, not counting the workforce it would take to build the facility.”
Offers for the sites are due in October, and the facility could begin accepting migrant children as soon as November 2020.
The facility would be the second of its kind in Florida, the other being a facility in Homestead which housed more than 2,200 unaccompanied migrant children this summer. But unlike Homestead, the new facility would be a permanent shelter.
The Homestead facility is considered the largest shelter for migrant children in the United States – having housed more than 14,000 children since March 2018 – and is the only for-profit youth facility, owned by Caliburn International.
All children were removed from the Homestead facility in July and many of the 4,000 employees were losing their jobs as of early August.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, a letter was sent via email to state lawmakers and mayors of the cities being explored, which, along with Lakeland, include Leesburg, Kissimmee, and Orlando.
Our Orlando sister station has learned two sites there – a hotel and an abandoned condo complex – are under consideration.
“Due to the crisis on the southern border, ORR has seen a dramatic increase in referrals of (unaccompanied children from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this fiscal year and continues to operate in emergency influx mode,” the email says.
Governor Ron DeSantis said Monday morning the state has no involvement in the process and he had relatively little knowledge of it.
“I hear nothing about it because this is all done with HHS they pick sites it’s just like if you as a business wanted to lease or buy a place and then they operate the facility the state does not get involved,” DeSantis said.
None of the information released Monday means the new facility is absolutely coming to Florida. Federal officials are also exploring sites in Los Angeles and Virginia.