The government is looking for 90,000 square feet of leasable space that's immediately available and can provide adequate security. The same call has gone out to other U.S. cities with populations of 200,000 or more and an airport. There are 100 short-term shelters across the country, but federal officials are seeking larger spaces to join the three temporary facilities now open in Texas, California and Oklahoma.
The federal effort attempts to address the recent surge in detention and processing of children and adults from Central America crossing the border in the Rio Grande Valley. Until recent years, the U.S. government had served about 7,500 unaccompanied children per year. More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors arrived at the border between October and the end of June. Most come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Mayor Paul Soglin said the city lacks a reserve of currently vacant buildings that meet federal standards.
"We're still looking, but I'm getting more pessimistic as the days go by," he said.
Madison wouldn't be responsible for the facility and there appear to be no negatives, other than "being criticized by xenophobes," Soglin said. The federal government would cover the costs of acquiring, renovating and running the building.
The State Journal says the facility would house 150 to 250 children for 30 to 60 days while hearings are held that will determine whether they are placed with family members or friends or deported to their home country.
"This is an unprecedented event that requires unique approaches to temporarily house children until they can be discharged to a sponsor while awaiting judicial proceedings," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional director Kathleen Falk said in a note to Soglin last week.