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Florida, Virginia among sites for migrant facilities for minors

In this Dec. 10, 2018, photo, immigrant boys play soccer at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, a former Job Corps site that now houses them in Homestead, Fla. The Trump administration is scouting sites in central Florida, Virginia and Los Angeles for future facilities to hold unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent letters to Florida lawmakers Monday saying it is looking for vacant properties in those locations. The properties would house permanent licensed facilities for children under age 18 who have entered the United State illegally without a parent or guardian.

The permanent sites will minimize the need for unlicensed temporary detention centers, according to the letter.

“The search for an addition of permanent licensed facilities is being pursued to reduce the potential need for temporary influx shelters in the future,” the letter said.

The nation’s largest child migrant facility is in Homestead, Florida. Immigrant advocates have described the site as having “prisonlike” conditions.

Existing migrant facilities have become a flashpoint in the 2020 presidential race. In recent weeks, Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates have visited and toured facilities in Texas and Florida. After the tours, they have decried the conditions in which they found migrants. Protests have sprung up nationwide as the public outcry builds momentum.

“We should be closing camps, not opening new ones,” tweeted Democratic Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, one of the Florida lawmakers who received the letter.

The proposed facilities will be state-licensed with occupancy set for spring 2020. Unlike other facilities, the department won’t rely on contractors’ own ready-to-go properties. Instead, the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement will lease the properties, build them out to meet state licensure requirements and bring in a service provider to operate them according to state licensure requirements, the letter said.

Earlier this month, the department said it was scouting sites for facilities around Atlanta; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; and San Antonio, Texas.