HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE — Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), has directed Holloman Air Force Base to provide temporary housing for up to 400 refugee children from Central America beginning in January.
The children are currently being cared for by the DHHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the well-being and support of these children, and is working in close coordination with base officials.
Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce President Mike Espiritu said the chamber will be the primary point of contact for any information regarding the housing of the children.
“I was contacted by Holloman Air Force Base that the Health and Human Services Department was looking at conducting a site visit to Holloman to determine whether or not it was a feasible location to house refugee children,” Espiritu said. “I’ll be the contact on this perspective. I’ll be working directly with HHS and Holloman and help them connect the dots with the things they need to take care of these young people. We’ll be meeting with Holloman next week, and hopefully we’ll have more information that we can provide to the public. “
The children will be housed in what used to be the 4th Space Surveillance Squadron’s building at Holloman.
Espiritu said a team from the DHHS conducted a feasibility study to see if the building would be suitable to house the refugee children and the review suggested that it would be a good fit and location.
“The 4th Space Surveillance Squadron’s building at Holloman has been vacant for quite some time, they looked at it to determine if it’s feasible to provide temporary housing,” he said. “They brought a team in from the DHHS and they looked at the facility and the review determined that it was suitable and so Holloman was selected as the location to house these children.”
He said the refugee children will be from several different countries from Central America. At the moment, some of the children will be from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. However, these locations may change.
“These are children, no adults. The children are of all ages,” Espiritu said. “I know that the Department of Defense is finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the Health and Human Services Department on what Holloman is going to do. We don’t know what the requirements will be yet, but it’s important to know that the same thing happened last year in Artesia. They were housed in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and their Chamber of Commerce, like we will be, was the point of contact for the community. For them, they worked with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but we will work with whoever the agency is. I am told it will be the Office of Refugee Resettlement and they run the Unaccompanied Children’s Services Program.”
Espiritu said at this time it is unknown when exactly the refugee children will arrive at Holloman, but it will be sometime in January.
“We are not sure when kids will begin to arrive, they usually give a 30-day notice, and the impression is that the 30-day notice has already begun this month, so it will happen for sure sometime in January,” he said. “How long they will stay here is not definitive. The program in Artesia was for six months; we anticipate that it will be something close to that. This is not considered a permanent event, but a temporary event.”
He said there are several reasons why refugees are entering the country. One is because the children have family in the United States that they are trying to reunite with. Some are trying to get out of their economic state and some are escaping the drug war that has affected their life.
“The reason this is happening is, these are children that have departed from their countries because they have family in the United States and they’re trying to reunite with them and get out of their current economic state,” Espiritu said. “That’s what the purpose is, is to try and reunite them with their families. They may be placed with host families as well.”
Some of the children have been picked up by customs agents on the border trying to enter the United States illegally.
Espiritu said the children have all been immunized and checked for possible diseases. He also said the Chamber of Commerce has convened a meeting with civic leaders to make them aware of the situation.
“The Chamber of Commerce has convened a meeting with our civic leaders that included our hospital, key leaders in education, transportation services and our city and county officials. We briefed them what we knew,” he said. “We convened the meeting just for awareness, because those are areas that we think will be significantly affected.”
He said he will be meeting with Holloman and the Department of Health and Human Services next week to gather more information.
“One of our goals is to ensure that people know what is going on. This is not a secret, there is nothing secretive about it,” Espiritu said. “It’s a tasking by the federal government and the Department of Defense, so Holloman and Alamogordo really has no say in this.”
Espiritu said he supports the government and Holloman in whatever they want to do, and the community should be supportive as well.
“I think we should help our government and base to support them in those needs. I believe we need to support our government and our base so that they’re successful. If it means taking care of these kids for a period of time, then I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “They’re children after all, and I think most people understand that. I think we’re a very positive and humane community.”