GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – A few residents have joined Rep. Richard Hudson and his Republican colleagues in asking questions about the plan to host immigrant children on the campus of the former American Hebrew Academy in northwestern Greensboro.
AHA’s board announced two weeks ago that it had entered into a 5-year contract — with an option for 5 more years — with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide a transitional campus called Greensboro Global Academy for immigrant children awaiting reunification with family members or others in the U.S.
The academy has 100 acres on a gated campus at 4334 Hobbs Road that includes 31 buildings of 412,712 square feet, an $18 million athletic center and natatorium, a variety of athletic fields and even 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.
Hudson (R-Concord), who represents the 9th Congressional District, sent a letter last week to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of Refugee Resettlement Acting Director Andrea Chapman to ask about the plan, which emerged as a possibility in May 2021. It was cosigned by Ted Budd (R-Advance), of the nearby 13th District, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) of the 5th District and the five other Republicans serving North Carolina in Congress.
Hudson followed that up this week with another press release to reiterate his questions and to present coverage about the issue, including reports on Fox News and other conservative-focused media that are based on addressing immigration issues in general.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Greensboro resident, appeared on Fox TV on Wednesday morning and asked questions about cost, security and how the job needs for the facility might affect local schools. The discussion points were similar to those expressed in Hudson’s letter.
Neither Budd nor Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), whose 6th District includes the facility, has commented on Hudson’s letter, but a spokesperson for Hudson had said he heard about the plan from a constituent. Greensboro officials said they have heard very little from residents who were concerned about the facility.
But a couple of residents have contacted WGHP to express questions and say their neighbors also were asking questions about security and the effects on a well-manicured, upper-class corner of the city.
“I have no idea why the Congressional delegation wrote that press release,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “I have gotten a few calls. By and large, the support has been very strong.”
Julie Smith, a spokesperson for Guilford County, told WGHP that she had talked to the County Manager Michael Halford and that “he hasn’t had any direct calls from constituents about the site – good or bad. … Since it’s all federally run, our knowledge is fairly limited here in the County Manager’s Office.”
Mark Hobson, a homeowner in the area, expressed concerns about the numbers – and the ages – of children who might be housed at the facility. He said he and some of his neighbors were concerned about how the facility might affect their home values, which can range into the high six figures. “What would happen to property taxes then?” he asked. “I love this city.”
Hobson, who says he totally supports legal immigration but thinks the current border control to be “crazy,” also pointed out the data HHS discloses about its facilities and begs questions about what the actual population might be.
About the facility
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.
HHS says the children stay for a few months and receive educational, physical, mental and recreational services. It’s unclear how many would be housed in Greensboro – HHS has not answered that question – but the facility is hiring about 800 people for a variety of positions.
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.
It’s those numbers that concern Hobson and, he said, neighbors to whom he has spoken. “What happens when 800 goes to 3000?” he asked. He said he had talked to Vaughan and that she refers questions back to the AHA and to HHS, which hasn’t responded to questions from WGHP.
Vaughan said she thinks it’s important to note that this facility “will not be a drain on local resources.
“There is no police protection; they provide security,” she said. “They won’t be in public schools. They have a medical facility on site. If someone has to be in our hospitals, they will pay for it. This didn’t require rezoning and it’s requiring no services.”
Not opening soon
There had been reports that the facility would open on July 9 – the original goal was July – but William Scarborough, a spokesperson for the AHA board, said that won’t be happening.
“No ‘start date’ has been established, and I can assure you it won’t be July 9,” he said. “There are no representatives of HHS nor any other agency on campus at this time.”