GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Republicans representing North Carolina in Congress are seeking answers about why immigrant children are being resettled on the property of the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro.
The board of the academy 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 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 other services for children who are unaccompanied or who are waiting for family members and sponsors.
On Thursday members of Congress, led by 9th District Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord), sent a letter 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.
“Due to the failures of the Biden administration to secure our Southern border, every state, including North Carolina, is now suffering from the impacts of the Biden border crisis,” the letter stated. “Given the effects of this crisis and decision to house UACs in our state, we demand answers to the following questions to help protect our constituents.”
UAC is an acronym that stands for “unaccompanied alien children.”
Hudson was joined in signing the letter by Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance), of the nearby 13th District, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) of the 5th District, Rep Patrick McHenry (R-Denver) and Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte), Rep. David Rouzer (R-Wilmington) and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville).
A spokesperson for Budd did not respond immediately to a request for comment about the letter. Neither did Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), whose 6th District includes the property where the American Hebrew Academy is located.
No calls or comments
It’s unclear if a particular incident or outpouring of comment sparked this letter. A spokesperson said Hudson first heard about the plan from an unidentified constituent.
Neither Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chair Skip Alford, who had been involved in the discussions with HHS, nor Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan responded to questions from WGHP about reactions they had received about the project and to this letter.
William Scarborough, who has overseen the AHA property and represents the board, first learned of the letter from Hudson in an email from WGHP. He replied that “AHA has not received any written nor verbal communication from Rep Hudson’s office or any other representative of the Congress. AHA has not received any calls or comments from the public about Rep Hudson’s concerns.”
He referred other questions to HHS, and an exchange of email with a spokesperson for that department did not provide immediate responses about Hudson’s letter or to illuminate the situation.
Questions from members of Congress
Hudson’s letter detailed political complaints about the Biden administration’s policy – including the numbers of immigrants who have sought to enter the country and the number who have done so illegally. The letter asks:
- When did communication between the ORR and the American Hebrew Academy begin, in relation to using the Academy as a transition site for UACs?
- What plans do you have in place to ensure standards of humane treatment of UACs at the Academy? Specifically, what plans do you have to prevent overcrowding, violence, and outbreaks of disease from occurring?
- Are there other locations in North Carolina your office is in discussions with to house UACs?
- What actions are being taken by the Biden Administration to ensure the use of the Academy as a transitional campus does not pose a danger to North Carolina communities?
- How much money are the taxpayers paying to house UACs in North Carolina? How much money are taxpayers paying to house UACs across the nation?
Why from Hudson?
Greg Steele, Hudson’s spokesperson, said Hudson took the lead on this issue because “last year, as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, HHS Secretary Becerra testified before the committee when Congressman Hudson questioned him about the plan to resettle minors in North Carolina.”
The release from Hudson’s office said Sec. Becerra denied this and said, “There is no plan that we have to shelter children in North Carolina. We are always looking for sites to provide the type of safety and security that children need, and we have sites throughout the country, but there is no plan that we can tell you to shelter children in North Carolina.”
What will happen at the facility?
The Office of Refugee Resettlement operates approximately 200 state-licensed facilities of this kind in 22 states, HHS said when the deal was announced, and the use of the vacant AHA was embraced not only by the facility’s board but also by local leaders. The students would be housed and educated on AHA grounds and not attend Guilford County Schools.
The release announcing the agreement under the name Greensboro Global Academy said HHS would hire up to 800 people to serve as administrators, teachers, counselors, medical care professionals and other workers to oversee the facility. Spanish speakers are needed in that group. The agency also will contract for services such as food service and security.
“ORR is legally required to provide for the care and custody of all unaccompanied children (UC) referred by DHS to ORR until they are appropriately and safely placed with a vetted sponsor,” Alston said earlier this month. “I can only imagine how emotionally and mentally difficult it must be to be a child in a new country, with a new language, to be all alone and separated from the comfort and support of the people you know who love and care about you.”
“I think it’s a great opportunity to reunite children with their families,” Vaughan said at the time. “This will be a one-of-a-kind facility primarily because of the type of facility it is right now. It’s not a detention facility. It’s not a shelter. It’s a youth village.
“Children can get a variety of services for a relatively short period of time.”