WI cities identify sites to house hundreds of undocumented children


By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Madison officials have identified three potential sites to house hundreds of undocumented child immigrants.

GIMME SHELTER: The cities of Madison and Milwaukee have offered up several sites to house hundreds of undocumented children coming to the country from the Mexican border.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin told Wisconsin Reporter on Tuesday two of the properties submitted to the federal government for review are the former Cub Foods store near Stoughton Road and the ShopKo off Aberg Avenue, which is closing at the end of August.

The city has acquired the Cub Foods parcel for storage, but the facility won’t be needed for city purposes until the beginning of next year, according to Soglin.

Soglin could not recall the location of the third site, but he said it’s “completely surrounded by the city.”

Madison has been asked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to find enough room to shelter between 150 and 250 undocumented children.

Catholic Charities in Milwaukee has offered three properties in eastern Wisconsin to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has requested space for up to 300 unaccompanied minors.

Two of the sites are parochial schools and the other is an office building in northeastern Wisconsin, according to the Rev. David Bergner, director of the Milwaukee chapter of Catholic Charities. The two schools, which wouldn’t be occupied by other children, are in Milwaukee and a Milwaukee suburb, Bergner said.

But Bergner declined to name the exact locations of the sites.

“The arrangements are going to be made, in any case, between FEMA and the institution involved,” Bergner told Wisconsin Reporter. “So, I see it more as the responsibility of the school and/or parish to prepare its own press release or have communications, possibly with their neighbors, before going public.”

The federal government is asking all cities with populations of 200,000 or more and an airport to look for buildings of at least 90,000 square feet to house undocumented children.

The shelters would be retrofitted at the federal government’s expense, according to Soglin.

Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, told Wisconsin Reporter in an email there is no strict deadline to select properties that meet the federal criteria.

“While only a few facilities will ultimately be selected, a wide range of facilities are being identified and evaluated to determine if they may feasibly provide temporary shelter space for children,” Wolfe said. “Facilities will be announced when they are identified as viable options.”

The children who would be housed in Wisconsin shelters are expected to stay anywhere from 30 to 120 days while they await court hearings. But Bergner said his organization is ready if the minors end up staying longer.

Bergner told Wisconsin Reporter that several private schools have opened up slots for the unaccompanied children.

But Soglin said the minors in Madison would not be entering the city’s school system before they are either returned to their homeland or released to designated family members.

The youth potentially coming to Wisconsin are part of a wave of Central American minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and are overwhelming detention facilities in the southern part of the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is required by law to find shelter for the undocumented children while they await deportation hearings.

A study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that 58 percent of unaccompanied minors are motivated to enter the U.S. illegally because of safety concerns back home, including gang violence and drug trades.

The Obama administration projects it will catch close to 90,000 children trying to cross the Mexican border without their parents by the end of the current budget year in September.

Fewer than 2,000 were returned last year to their native countries.