President Donald Trump's administration is evaluating vacant properties near five U.S. cities as potential permanent sites to hold hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
Sites are being assessed in and around Atlanta; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; and San Antonio, Texas, Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber said.
Existing migrant detention facilities, especially those housing children, have become a flashpoint in the 2020 presidential race. In recent days, Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates have visited and toured facilities in Texas and Florida and decried the conditions in which they found migrants. Protests have sprung up nationwide as the public outcry builds momentum.
Proposals for the new sites in Georgia, Texas and Arizona are for long-term facilities. Federal officials are seeking 20-year leases for most of the sites, a sign that acrimony surrounding immigration policies could continue for years.
It's troublesome that the government "is looking for permanent, long-term structures like this, given its track record on abuses and child neglect that we have seen nationally," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
"Clearly the abuses that we have seen should not be tolerated and I don't think that this administration is capable of administrating a program in a humane way," Gonzalez said. "Other nations around the world have done better by those seeking refuge, and this nation certainly is not doing enough to respect human rights norms."
Gonzalez anticipates there could be protests in Georgia as plans for the facility proceed.
Weber said the government is searching for permanent licensed facilities "to reduce the potential need for temporary influx shelters in the future."
The government is seeking properties that can hold up to 500 children, according to bidding documents. Buildings must have up to 100,800 square feet (9,400 square meters) of space and the properties must include about 2 acres (0.8 hectares) for outdoor recreation.
For the Georgia facility, government officials are requesting proposals from a specific region in the state that's generally south and west of Atlanta. That area is accessible to Atlanta's airport and Interstate 20, a route that connects Georgia with Texas and western states.
The plan for the facility calls for 125 bedrooms, each of which could house up to four children. About 165 employees would work there, and there would be a counselor's office for every 12 children. Food would be provided in three shifts for each meal in a 2,000-square-foot (610-square-meter) dining room, according to the documents.
The Arizona site, which would be within the Phoenix city limits, has an estimated occupancy date of May 2020, with the other four possibly occupied by June 2020.