GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – If you are concerned that the end of the Title 42 immigration rule, scheduled to expire on Thursday, might cause a surge of children being delivered to the immigration facility that is planned for Greensboro, you can relax for now.
By all indications, the Greensboro Influx Care Facility, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has contracted to open at the former American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, is not much closer to hosting immigrant children than it was in January.
And getting answers about plans and progress seems no easier either, even when officials are asking the questions.
We do know that the influx facility, located at 4334 Hobbs Road, is planned to be an interim home for children between the ages of 13 and 17 years old – about 800 at the peak, officials have said – who would spend about two to three weeks housed at the facility. DHHS nearly a year ago leased the facility for 5 years with an option for 5 more.
But not much has happened since December, when the facility’s opening was placed on “warm” status because of a dispute about the bids DHHS had let for one of the contractors at the facility.
A staff of about 1,500 employees would oversee the children on a 24-7 basis – they won’t be allowed off the property, officials have said – but hiring and training for those positions have been on hold while DHHS sorts out its bidding dispute.
There are numerous contractors responsible for the facility, and the holdup is with the group handling facilities services, which would include a variety of security, cafeteria employees and other similar services. And whichever company lands that disputed contractor would need to hire a few hundred to be ready for opening, some familiar with the plans have suggested.
Employees of AHA are continuing to maintain the facilities, and Deployed Services, the contractor responsible for health care, operation of the residence halls, case workers and the educational program, have been on the campus, although not fully staffed.
Title 42, a Trump-era policy that turned away immigrants at the border because of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to expire on May 11. And officials in border cities have said they expect a surge of thousands of people who had been awaiting this change in their bid for asylum.
These include families and perhaps unaccompanied children, and how they all will be handled is among the many concerns of government officials.
But all other questions seem to be hanging in the wind and lacking answers. One of the questioners has continued to be Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), in whose 6th Congressional District the influx facility would operate.
She for months has been writing letters and making calls to DHHS officials about the level of knowledge that residents are receiving about this facility.
“Since the Office of Refugee Resettlement announced their agreement to lease space at the former American Hebrew Academy last year, I’ve demanded transparency and accountability for our community,” Manning said this week in response to questions from WGHP. “Following my request, ORR created an email inbox where community members can ask questions and receive responses directly from ORR.
“I am, however, disappointed that our community has not received regular updates on when the facility may be operational. This is particularly concerning given the increased activity at the site. Therefore, I call on ORR to provide a community update on the status of the facility immediately.”
Manning isn’t alone. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan told WGHP on Tuesday that she had no update on the facility.
There have been a handful of briefings involving community leaders but none since last summer, and there are questions about how quickly after the contract dispute is settled the facility could be prepared to see children arrive. It’s unclear who might be in charge, and DHHS does not respond in a timely manner to questions emailed to its contact address.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement operates about 200 facilities in 22 states and has done so since 2002’s Homeland Security Act. In Fiscal Year 2021 the program handled 122,731 children, its information sheet says. DHHS reps earlier said there were about 8,749 such children in their system now.
ORR says that in Fiscal Year 2021, about 7 out of 10 children at its facilities were 14 or older, and two-thirds were boys. About half of them were from Guatemala and about a third were from Honduras. The rest were from El Salvador and other countries.
The property on Hobbs Road is 100 gated acres that include 31 buildings of 412,712 square feet, an $18 million athletic center and natatorium, a variety of athletic fields and a 22-acre lake.
The facility would be used to provide housing, classrooms and recreational facilities for children who are unaccompanied or who are waiting for family members and sponsors.