GREENSBORO, N.C. – Six representatives from the Office Of Refugee Resettlement briefed Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) and a group of elected leaders about plans for the unattached immigrant children who will be processed through Greensboro in the coming months.
ORR is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which in the spring signed a 5-year lease with the owners of the former American Hebrew Academy to use its property at 434 Hobbs Road in Greensboro as a transitional campus for immigrant children awaiting reunification with family members or others in the U.S.
Manning and two members of her staff were joined by state Sens. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) and Amy Galey (R-Alamance) and state Reps. Pricey Harrison and Ashton Clemmons, both Democrats from Greensboro. A staff member for Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) also was part of the conference call.
The Greensboro Influx Care Facility will be an interim home for children between the ages of 13 and 17 years old – “about 800 at the peak” – who would spend about two to three weeks housed at the facility, officials reiterated.
A staff of about 1,500 employees will oversee the children on a 24-7 basis – they won’t be allowed off the property, officials have said – but that hiring and training are on hold while DHHS sorts out a dispute over one of the bids it let to operate the facility, WGHP reported last week.
Still, you can count Harrison as saying the briefing was beneficial and that the facility would meet a need. DHHS reps told the group there were about 8,749 such children in their system now.
“I have a lot of empathy for these kids,” Harrison said. “It sounds like a pretty solid situation to me.”
She said she thought the meeting was prompted by Manning, in whose 6th Congressional District the facility is located, who had sent a letter seeking more information from DHHS. Manning didn’t speak after the briefing.
But Harrison described the information – which mostly was new to her – and it was virtually identical to a briefing in July attended by Melvin “Skip” Alston, chair of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Justin Conrad, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and City Council member Nancy Hoffmann, among others.
Harrison described a session devoid of tension, with no pushback about the plan. She said she could see how these facilities were aligned to guard against human trafficking.
“They will have full medical care,” Harrison said of the children. “Legal help. Mental health if they need it. Everyone will be vetted. … access to their family members.”
Galey said the facility was a federal issue and not in her district, so she didn’t have any comment. Clemmons and Hardister’s spokesperson did not respond to queries emailed to them.
Garrett had said he found the briefing sort of “ho hum.”
But residents in and around the property continue to ask questions, and most of those tend to deal with safety and the containment of the teenagers. Some have asked whether the children could be released into the community, especially when they turned 18.
Harrison said that during the briefing they were told that children wouldn’t be there past “17 years, 364 days. They are then handled differently.”
Another rumor a resident heard was that Puxin, the Chinese educational company that invested in the American Hebrew Academy before that concept fizzled during the coronavirus pandemic, was buying up property in the area where the children would work.
People familiar with the situation have that is highly unlikely, given Puxin’s position, and the ORR’s plan does not allow for the children to leave the facility.
One resident shared a letter from Sen. Thom Tillis that seemed to underscore that by remarking how Puxin “was recently delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.” Tillis’s letter mostly expressed his concern about immigration policy but did address his concern that a Chinese company could profit from this arrangement. Puxin is one of the debtors for the AHA board and logically would be paid by cash brought in by the contract.
“There are still many questions that the Biden Administration must answer regarding the Academy, particularly its ties to a Chinese company that could profit from this arrangement,” Tillis’ letter said.
About the facility
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.
About the program
The ORR 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.
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 from Honduras. The rest were from El Salvador and other countries.