January 2, 2016

Holloman AFB to house Central American refugee children

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The New Mexico flag waves in the breeze on Jan. 6, 2009, at the front gate of Holloman Air Force Base. The flags replaced the normal presentation of U.S. Flags, New Mexico state flags and German flags in honor of New Mexico’s admittance into the union on Jan. 6, 1912. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Deandre Curtiss)

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — Beginning in mid-January, Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico will become the temporary home for about 400 refugee children from Central America. The Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies are in charge of the program, a result of the recent increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the United States.

The New Mexico flag waves in the breeze on Jan. 6, 2009, at the front gate of Holloman Air Force Base. The flags replaced the normal presentation of U.S. Flags, New Mexico state flags and German flags in honor of New Mexico’s admittance into the union on Jan. 6, 1912. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Deandre Curtiss)

The New Mexico flag waves in the breeze on Jan. 6, 2009, at the front gate of Holloman Air Force Base. The flags replaced the normal presentation of U.S. Flags, New Mexico state flags and German flags in honor of New Mexico’s admittance into the union on Jan. 6, 1912. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Deandre Curtiss)

Mike Espritu, director of the Chamber of Commerce in nearby Alamogordo, said local groups are getting ready to assist when the children arrive.

“We’ve already had one meeting with some local leaders and it appears the community is willing to do what it can, to do what’s right for the children,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s going to take care of those young people, no matter who they are.”

At Holloman, an HHS spokeswoman said, the children will be provided with food, health care and a place to sleep. The goal will be to help them locate relatives in the United States or put them in temporary foster care. They eventually will be given court hearings to decide if they can stay in the country.

Espritu said he is aware that other refugee facilities have drawn protests and controversy, but he hopes to avoid that.

“One of my goals is to be extremely transparent with our community and those around the nation that are watching,” he said. “My goal is to get the word out there, because we’re not keeping any secrets.”

He said Holloman officials are remodeling what used to be the 4th Space Surveillance Squadron building to house the refugees. Officials say children will begin arriving around Jan. 15, and they have no timeline for how long the facility will be needed.

Audio version of this story (mp3) here.

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