ROYAL, Ark. – Congressional members from the Natural State came out against a possible refugee shelter the same day representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services toured the facility.
HHS is considering whether or not to transform the former Ouachita Job Corps Center in Royal into a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children, which means they have no lawful immigration status and no parent or legal guardian in the U.S.
The animosity surrounding the change has traveled from Garland County to Washington D.C.
U.S. senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton and U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman, all Arkansas Republicans, called on HHS Monday to scrap its plans.
“He’s doing everything he can to stop it,” said Ryan Saylor, the communications director for Congressman Westerman. “He doesn’t think it’s safe for the citizens of Garland County.”
As a resident of Garland County himself, Congressman Westerman feels betrayed, according to Saylor.
“The congressman was very upset that they [HHS] had not reached out and notified him or any of his constituents before making a decision,” Saylor said. “There had been no consultation prior to their announcement to the general public. His first contact that he’s had with anyone regarding this situation was this morning on a conference call.”
Saylor said no one with HHS could answer what countries the unaccompanied minors would come from and if they would bring criminal histories with them.
“If they can’t tell you who’s going to be at the facility and what their background is, then how can they guarantee your safety?,” Saylor said.
According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, many of these children are fleeing violent situations in their home country and choose to leave rather than join a gang.
ORR’s website says each shelter houses about 50 children and each child spends about 35 days there under constant supervision. They do not integrate into the local community.
“There are facilities that are definitely closer to the southern border that have already been used and that can continue to be used,” Saylor said.
Congressman Westerman would like to see the Arkansas National Guard get the lease on the facility.
Saylor said the Guard submitted a request Dec. 5 to use the former Job Corps center for its Youth Challenge Program.
“They believe what they want to do would be far better for the local citizens than bringing in foreigners who could have criminal backgrounds, could have any variety of situations that could present a danger to local residents,” Saylor said. “We believe all of this is just a play for them [HHS] to get their hands on this property.”