If unaccompanied minors from Central America come to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, they would not mingle with the communities at the base or surrounding areas, representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told local officials during a conference call today.
As of today, HHS said officials are still evaluating the base as a possible temporary home for the youths. A final decision has not been made.
Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson, Steilacoom Mayor Ron Lucas and U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, whose district includes cities surrounding the base, took part in the conference call. Staff from the offices of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were also among those on the call.
During the conversation, HHS gave assurances that the unaccompanied minors would not be a problem to health and public safety, said Lakewood communications manager Brent Champaco.
The conference call came in response to a letter written by Anderson to Heck, expressing concern that HHS had not provided information or answered questions about how housing immigrant children at the base would affect surrounding communities.
HHS already has placed minors — who have crossed the Mexican border unaccompanied into the United States — at three military bases: Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio; Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif.; and Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla.
According to the human-services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, the majority of unaccompanied minors come from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Ecuador.
HHS also said the minors would not go to schools at JBLM, or in any other communities, Champaco said. Rather, their education would be provided by HHS at the facility.
Champaco said HHS told them most are teenage boys who are 12 to 17 years old.
In a written statement, Heck said the department assured him and local officials that if the base were chosen, local governments would not be responsible for providing resources. HHS would take care of the children while each case is evaluated, he said.
“Whether at JBLM or other temporary locations, we can’t ignore the ongoing influx of children fleeing conflict in their home countries,” Heck said. “I am supportive of proposals to provide emergency supplemental funding to allow DHHS and Federal Emergency Management Agency the ability to operate at a sustainable level to deal with this crisis.”
For more information about unaccompanied minors, HHS has set up a Q&A web page.