Feds considered housing thousands of unaccompanied migrant children at convention center, mayor says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Within the past week, federal officials toured the Orange County Convention Center to see if it would be a suitable location to house 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children, Mayor Jerry Demings said.

“Unfortunately, with the shows we have booked at this time it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to accommodate them,” Demings said.

READ: Over 4,000 migrants, many kids, crowded into Texas facility

The mayor said considering the events they have booked coming up at the convention center, they do not have enough space to create a suitable, humane living area for the children. It would have been set up as a so-called “decompression center” similar to what we’re seeing at convention centers in Dallas, Texas and San Diego, California where cots line the floor.

With thousands of children and families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks and packing facilities, President Joe Biden has been under pressure to bring more transparency to the process of housing the children.

READ: Hundreds of migrants set out from Honduras, dreaming of US

Demings said if the convention center would have been deemed a suitable location, he’s not sure if he would have supported the idea. He said there are many considerations that would go into that decision.

That includes making sure the housing was set up in a humane manner, not like a detention center.

WATCH: How the Orange County Convention Center is working to boost business during the pandemic

“We simply can’t make the commitment to make available our convention center for the time period they need,” Demings said.

He said he expects that federal officials are seeking other locations to house the children, possibly in Florida or in other locations across the country.

U.S. authorities are immediately expelling the majority of migrants who cross the southern border, though a high number of unaccompanied children, which the Biden administration has said it will not expel, have created logistical challenges.

READ: Stimulus update: Social Security, SSI recipients should see stimulus checks beginning next week

Several hundred kids and teenagers are crossing the border daily, most fleeing violence, poverty or the effects of natural disasters in Central America. In some cases, parents refused entry into the U.S. have sent their children across the border alone, hoping they will be placed with relatives eventually.

The Border Patrol is apprehending far more children daily than Health and Human Services is placing with U.S. sponsors, leading to a severe backlog in the system. The Border Patrol generally is not supposed to detain children for more than three days, but Health and Human Services lacks space.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.