Federal officials asked Fox Valley in late July to identify possible locations in northeastern Wisconsin to temporarily house up to 400 children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, Post-Crescent Media reported. They also requested the same of officials in Milwaukee and Madison.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been searching throughout the country for large facilities within 100 miles of airports.
Officials in Outagamie County told the department they were concerned about funding and education for the children if they were relocated to the Fox Valley. Department officials said the shelter would be funded by the federal government.
Craig Moser, deputy executive administrator for Outagamie County, said Fox Valley officials announced in early August that they were unable to identify a 90,000-square-foot facility.
"We were contacted to seek suitable sites that met federal criteria to house the children," Moser said. "We asked around - they gave a range of possibilities from large empty stores, warehouses or unoccupied hotels. We don't have much of that."
Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna actively searched for an appropriate building in the city, even though he knew he would likely be criticized.
"The politics aren't our issue; that's for Washington to sort out," Hanna said. "This is a humanitarian crisis and our community has the resources to step up and help."
Sen. Ron Johnson said he's concerned by the influx of unaccompanied minors, as well as the action the federal government has taken to address it. About 63,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, entered the U.S. illegally from October to July, double the number from the same period a year earlier. The numbers slowed in July, possibly due to temperatures climbing at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Americans are compassionate, but we have to look at what's causing this and what's the achievable goal? That goal should be to stop the flow," Johnson said. "We should be returning these kids to their home countries to their parents, so other parents don't think the risk is worth the payoff of letting them stay."
Health and Human Services will continue to work with state officials to search for facilities in Wisconsin. Two sites in Milwaukee and an undisclosed site in northeast Wisconsin are still being considered.