By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — The federal government has asked officials in the Madison and Milwaukee areas to look for potential sites to house hundreds of undocumented children flooding into the country through the Mexican border.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin told Wisconsin Reporter Monday the city is working with several organizations, including Centro Hispano of Dane County, to find a facility of at least 90,000 square feet to shelter between 150 and 250 unaccompanied child immigrants.
Soglin said the federal government is hoping to have a self-contained structure ready in the Madison area as soon as possible.
“We’ve been looking to see whether or not we have any public or private buildings that meets the criteria … but we have not identified any buildings that might be a fit,” Soglin said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also contacted Catholic Charities in Milwaukee to find facilities that could handle several hundred undocumented minors, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported late last week.
The Rev. David Bergner, director of the Milwaukee chapter of Catholic Charities, told Wisconsin Reporter Monday the federal government is seeking room for up to 300 children.
“I was asked between 100 and 300, but I don’t think the 300 is going to happen,” Bergner said. “Basically, if we take 100 and do a good job, that’s better than taking too many and not doing a good job.”
Catholic Charities has found three potential sites in the Milwaukee area, and now it’s up to FEMA to make the next decision, Bergner said.
“Right now, it’s like one shoe has dropped,” Bergner said. “We don’t know what the other shoe is going to be like yet.”
Bergner said his agency will know more once a final decision is made on President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency aid for child migrants.
The costs associated with the temporary stays, which are unknown at this point, would be covered by the federal government, Soglin and Bergner said. The staffing of the facilities would fall to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Bergner said.
The sites would house the children for about 120 days, Bergner said.
“That was the goal set to get them processed,” he said.
Bergner thinks Milwaukee is being considered for housing because of its close proximity to Chicago, which has an immigration court.
Catholic Charities organizations in Madison and Green Bay have not been contacted by the federal government to look for undocumented children shelters, officials from those offices told Wisconsin Reporter.
The children potentially coming to Wisconsin are part of an influx of Central American minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and overwhelmed Texas facilities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by law, must find shelter for the undocumented children while they await deportation hearings.
The Obama administration estimates it will capture close to 90,000 minors trying to illegally cross the Mexican border without their parents by the end of the current budget year in September.
The government returned fewer than 2,000 undocumented children last year to their native countries.