GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) has taken up the questions many residents are asking about the facility for immigrant children that will open at the former American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro.

Residents in neighborhoods surrounding the facility at 434 Hobbs Road have been trying to find a way to ask representatives of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services about their plans. Skip Alston, the chair of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, and Nancy Hoffmann, the representative on the Greensboro City Council for District 4, where that property is located, both told WGHP that they would attend an invitation-only meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at what is now called the Greensboro Piedmont Influx Care Facility

Rep. Kathy Manning
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro)

WGHP had reported on Friday that two meetings had been scheduled following the announcement in early June by AHA’s board that it had entered into a 5-year contract — with an option for 5 more years — with DHHS to provide a transitional campus for immigrant children awaiting reunification with family members or others in the U.S.

But homeowners in the area want specifics and are seeking a forum with DHHS officials. One of them, Mark Hobson, told WGHP that there was a meeting of an area homeowners association on Sunday night and that “many were furious.”

He also submitted a list of 10 questions that homeowners would like to have answered by officials, including the numbers of children, how those numbers might affect zoning laws (and property values), whether the children would be restricted to the facility grounds, what elements of security will be in place and the demographics of the group.

On Monday afternoon Manning, whose office had said she had not been invited to the meeting, submitted a 3-page letter to January Contreras, DHHS’ assistant secretary for Administration for Children and Families, asking many of those same questions.

“On behalf of my constituents, I request more information about the facility’s operational protocols, the potential impact on the local community, the experience at comparable facilities, and the expected timeline,” Manning wrote, before listing 13 different issues under the broad categories of operational protocols, impact on local community, experience at other facilities and timeline.

The property at 4334 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.

William Scarborough, who has been overseeing the AHA property for its board, confirmed to WGHP that there would be meetings but referred all other questions to HHS and said AHA staff would not attend. “It is an HHS presentation,” he said. HHS has not responded to emails with questions about the meetings.

“Your assistance in answering these questions is greatly appreciated,” Manning wrote to Contreras. “Additionally, as ORR continues to proceed with the process to open this ICF, I request HHS develop a mechanism through which local residents can provide feedback or report concerns directly to ORR, either through a telephone hotline or via a dedicated email address. Strong oversight and transparency will be critical to keeping keep my constituents fully informed.”

Later on Monday, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) raised political questions about the facility, which emerged as a possibility in May 2021. Hudson, last month, wrote a letter to DHHS to ask about the facility, although it does not lie in his 8th Congressional District.

“On April 30, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided notice that a site visit would occur at the American Hebrew Academy on May 4, 2021,” Tillis and Hudson said in their letter. “Less than one week later, Secretary Becerra told Rep. Richard Hudson ‘there is no plan that we have to shelter children in North Carolina.’ In subsequent correspondence in October 2021 with congressional staff, HHS noted that ORR was still considering the American Hebrew Academy, but that no agreements or contracts had been completed.”

Tillis and Hudson further used the letter to comment on immigration issues as a whole and to recognize that AHA had in 2019 received a loan of $25 million from Puxin, an educational company based in China. Puxin is just one of several creditors for AHA, a 501c3 corporation, Scarborough told WGHIP.

New sign out front

A new sign has been created outside the former American Hebrew Academy. (LORI DENBERG/WGHP)

As of Saturday work crews had replaced the signs outside the facility, and the name American Hebrew Academy no longer is attached to the stone abutment. Now the address of 4334 Hobbs Road is there.

No opening date has been announced, and the numbers and other data about the children have not been released by HHS. A fact sheet talks about HHS’s usage of similar facilities across the country under its Unaccompanied Children Program.

Greensboro City Council member Nancy Hoffmann (CANDIDATE PHOTO)

It is uncertain whether DHHHS is planning meetings that would involve residents or the general public, but area residents are expressing concern about the impact and security of the facility and how its presence might affect the value of homes in an upscale neighborhood.

Hoffmann, asked by WGHP whether she had fielded complaints from homeowners, said, “Yes, I have spoken with some citizens who live in District 4 regarding the leasing of the American Hebrew Academy campus by DHHS.”

Neither the county’s commissioners nor the City Council has any voice on this contract. AHA is a nonprofit that is overseen by a board of directors, with Scarborough as its contact. AHA’s contract with DHHS was privately executed, and Mayor Nancy Vaughan had said during the announcement that it would not require support from city departments.

Julie Smith, a spokesperson for Guilford County, told WGHP earlier this month that she had talked to 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.”

Vaughan, who did not respond to questions about Tuesday’s meeting, said earlier this month that she had “gotten a few calls. By and large, the support has been very strong.”

About the facilities

An aerial photograph of the American Hebrew Academy property on Hobbs Road in Greensboro.

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. The facility in Greensboro 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.

Hudson’s letter from last month to Becerra and Office of Refugee Resettlement Acting Director Andrea Chapman 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.

Budd has not commented on Hudson’s letter, but a spokesperson for Hudson had said he heard about the plan from a constituent.