GREENSBORO — U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is taking some steps she expects will provide more transparency about a planned facility for unaccompanied migrant children in the city.
Congressional members of both political parties, as well as local leaders, news media and community members have been trying to gain more information from the federal agency about its plans for the site.
DHHS has said it wants to use the campus of what was once the American Hebrew Academy boarding school to temporarily house immigrant children while they await reunification with family members or sponsors in the United States.
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The department's Office of Refugee Resettlement said in June that to meet its legal responsibility, the agency “continuously explores potential facility options for future needs to ensure that children do not have to remain in border patrol facilities, which are not appropriate locations for children.”
By law, DHHS must provide care for children who have no lawful U.S. immigration status; are younger than 18; and who have no parent or legal guardian available to provide care and physical custody here.
In a news release, Manning said that after she met with DHHS officials last week, the agency set up an email address for questions and concerns.
The Greensboro Democrat also said that DHHS will "have a fact sheet available with information about the facility" and "will provide regular updates through an onsite public information officer once the facility is operational."
Manning was unavailable to speak with the News & Record due to being booked with meetings in her district, according to her scheduler.
“I am pleased HHS has agreed to my request to better engage with the local community regarding the Influx Care Facility and to provide detailed information to local officials, who have expressed concerns over the lack of information-sharing and transparency,” Manning said in the release.
Mark Hobson, a Westridge Forest resident who has previously voiced concerns about the planned facility, said he was "skeptical" that DHHS is actually taking steps to be more open.
"It sounds like motherhood and apple pie," he said. "Check the box ... not really saying anything."
Hobson doesn't think that it makes sense to spend the money to house migrant children on what he termed a "five-star" campus. He added that his skepticism is bolstered by past experience — information-sharing meetings DHHS held last month were by invitation only and largely for city and county officials.
"Until such a time that there is a real track record, that any and all questions are answered quickly, honestly and without spin or bias, I will remain skeptical," he wrote in an email.
According to local officials who attended that July meeting, DHHS said that the facility wouldn't open until Jan. 1 at the earliest. When first announced in June, DHHS anticipated opening this summer.
Also, DHHS officials said that up to 800 teenagers could be housed and educated at the facility, and that the average stay would likely be between 15 and 40 days.
Terry Billings, president of the Westridge Forest Homeowners Association, said he thought having a public information officer onsite "absolutely would be helpful."
Still, Billings said he would like to see community meetings for local residents to share their concerns on topics such as traffic, security and the timing of the children's arrival.
Billings said he hasn't really gotten any more information since reading the news reports of the July meetings with local officials.
"If Kathy Manning has got a pipeline of information, I would love to share that with the association members," he said.