DENVER (AP) – The federal government is abandoning plans to open a temporary shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children in suburban Denver, saying it would take too much time and money to get the site ready.
An assessment by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that it would cost an estimated $28 million to $37 million and take about a year to transform a warehouse at the sprawling Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado into a shelter for up to 1,000 children, spokeswoman Andrea Helling said.
The department wants to be ready to handle an expected surge in Central American children crossing the border starting this spring. It's already opened temporary shelters at Holloman Air Force in New Mexico and near Dallas, and is set to open another one in late February in Homestead, Florida.
The agency is looking at other sites, both federally owned and private property, to house the children, Helling said.
Children in the shelters, most of them between ages 14 and 17, stay an average of 32 days. They receive schooling and medical care on site until they can be placed with sponsors as they wait to hear whether they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. or will be deported.
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The federal government is trying to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2014, when so many children crossed the border into the U.S. from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they were forced to stay in Border Patrol facilities, which aren't designed to house children. That also diverted officers from securing the border, even though the law requires children under 17 who enter the country alone to be turned over to HHS.
The government announced the plan for the Lakewood shelter during New Year's week and the timing left city officials scrambling to try to answer people's questions about its impact on the surrounding community.
Lakewood mayor Adam Paul said the decision to give up on the shelter was a relief and said communication with the federal government has been "challenging."
"I hope a better process can be established in the future, and I wish the best for these children," Paul said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said numerous people called his office offering to help the children expected at the shelter and pledged to continue to monitor how these children will be handled.