Military News

Lakewood gets meeting to address concerns about immigrant detainees

Lakewood officials will get a chance next week to have their questions answered about a proposal to temporarily shelter hundreds of young immigrant detainees at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is managing care for a surge of minors illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, agreed to the meeting late Thursday.

The agency plans to sit down with Lakewood officials and staff members from the office of U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Olympia) on Wednesday,said Kati Rutherford, Heck’s spokeswoman.

Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson on June 30 sent letters to Heck and HHS officials, posing questions about social services the detainees might require.

“Without this information the city cannot evaluate the community risk presented by this plan as it amounts to no more than a ‘dumping’ of a population with very real needs,” he wrote.

Heck called the staff of HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to press for the meeting.

“Local residents deserve to know what this change will require from the community, if anything, and how the community — including active-duty military personnel stationed on JBLM — can stay informed on the situation,” Heck said.

Some 52,000 minors, most of them from Central America, have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border this year. Some are being held at border patrol facilities and three military bases while HHS connects the detainees with relatives in the United States or sponsors.

Military personnel are not involved with the care or protection of the minors. HHS hires civilian contractors to mind the detainees.

Federal officials say they do not have enough space to care for the minors. Up to 90,000 people under 18 are expected to try to cross the border this year, according to HHS.

“Unaccompanied children are subjecting themselves to serious risks to make the journey here and our Border Patrol stations are overcrowded to the breaking point,” Burwell said Thursday at a Senate hearing.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune