D.C. officials and immigration advocates on Tuesday criticized plans by the federal government to house unaccompanied migrant children in Washington.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city has “no intention” of accepting such a facility, echoing opposition from elected officials in Northern Virginia, who are protesting a proposal by the Trump administration to build a permanent shelter there for unaccompanied minors.
Bowser was reacting to an application from Dynamic Service Solutions, a federal contractor, to open a temporary shelter for children in the District. The company has been advertising job listings for educators, caseworkers and medical staff members to work with “unaccompanied alien” children in the nation’s capital.
A woman who answered the phone at the contractor’s office referred questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the placement of migrant children. The department did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The proposed facility would house as many as 242 children, according to a person familiar with the contractor’s application to the city. Some members of the D.C. Council said they were under the impression that the shelter would be located on private property in Takoma, a Northwest D.C. neighborhood near the Maryland border.
Democrats and some Republicans have objected to the Trump administration’s handling of immigration at the southern border, including separating children from their families and holding immigrants in crowded facilities and squalid conditions.
“Washington, D.C. will not be complicit in the inhumane practice of detaining migrant children in warehouses,” Bowser said in a statement. “We have no intention of accepting a new federal facility, least of all one that detains and dehumanizes migrant children.”
The U.S. Border Patrol has reported apprehending more than 69,000 unaccompanied minors at the southwestern border from October 2018 through July. That’s an increase from 50,000 minors apprehended in the previous year.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for placing the children with relatives or in shelters and funds about 170 facilities in 23 states.
Opponents of a D.C. shelter say they don’t object to the arrival of immigrant children in their communities but to the method of housing under the Trump administration.
“We are going to bring 200 migrant children to a sheltered facility? That’s absurd, it really is. I wouldn’t support it even if it was 10 children,” said council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), whose district includes the possible location for a shelter. “This isn’t how you treat humans.”
The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, which oversees foster care and child welfare services and must license such a facility, received an application from Dynamic Service Solutions but found it “inadequate,” according to a D.C. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing matter. The application was not rejected outright and is still pending, the person said.
The facility must also receive approval from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which certifies buildings for occupancy.
Advocates are pressing city officials to do whatever they can to stop the shelter.
“So many of us in the Latino community are opposed to this happening anywhere in the United States, but certainly not when it’s in our backyard,” said Maria Gomez, president and chief executive of Mary’s Center, a community health center with multiple locations.
District officials recently closed a megashelter for homeless families at the former D.C. General hospital campus, arguing that children should not be housed in crowded institutions.
Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) is considering legislation that would cap the number of youths who can be placed in a facility as a way of blocking the shelter for unaccompanied minors. Currently, the largest youth shelter in the city houses 14 people between the ages of 18 and 24.
“I oppose the licensing of a large shelter for unaccompanied children, which does not meet the standard of care that we have upheld for many years here in the District,” Nadeau said in a statement. “If we need to change the law in order to prevent the private operation of a large shelter for children, I will gladly introduce emergency legislation.”
The skirmish over the shelter is the latest example of the District’s Democratic mayor tangling with President Trump.
Last year, Bowser opposed Trump’s plans for a grand military parade on Veterans Day — an idea that was never realized, in part because Bowser indicated that the local costs of the parade would have been $21.6 million.
“The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it.”
The mayor fired back on Twitter.
“Yup, I’m Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, the local politician who finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America (sad),” she tweeted.
This year, Bowser opposed Trump’s efforts to redesign the annual Fourth of July celebration to include a nationally televised address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She said his participation posed logistical challenges and threatened to turn the festivities into a political event. She made a point of saying she would not attend.
Despite her efforts to stand up to the president, the mayor has faced heat from immigration activists for what they consider an insufficient response to the Trump administration’s deportation of local residents.
The Bowser administration has made millions available for local nonprofits providing legal services to immigrants, but that funding is not available for adult immigrants once they are detained.