The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is exploring using the former American Hebrew Academy site in Greensboro “as a possible transitional care facility for unaccompanied migrant children.”

That’s according to an email sent from Guilford County Manager Mike Halford to the Guilford County commissioners this week. 

The use of the former American Hebrew Academy location would mean hundreds of new jobs if the federal Health and Human Services Department decides to use it.

Halford stated that local officials won’t know if HHS has selected the Academy site until sometime this summer.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said on Thursday, May 6, that he believes the federal use of the site would be good all around – good for Greensboro and the county, good for the federal government and good for the children.

“It should provide about 800 new jobs,” Alston said.

Alston also said that this would show that Guilford County was “a friendly and welcoming” community.

“That puts us in a national spotlight in a positive way,” he said.

He also pointed out that the site would be very secure. Those being contained there would remain there and people would not be allowed in.  Alston said one reason the feds like the site for this use is that it’s so self-contained.

When it was pointed out to him that Greensboro residents even react negatively to a Trader Joe’s being built near them, Alston said that it wouldn’t surprise him if there were objections from some residents – but he added that, since it would be such a big positive in so many ways for the city and county, he hoped any objections would be minimal.

A letter from Lee Stevens, the senior advisor to the director of the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs of the US Department of Health and Human Services, explained the federal government’s interest in the former academy location at 4334 Hobbs Road. 

The academy closed in early 2019 due to financial challenges. 

Stevens’ letter was addressed to “State Partners” and was sent to various officials who needed to be aware of the protentional move by HHS.

In that letter, sent to the county commissioners via Halford, Stevens stated that the top priority of HHS was ensuring that unaccompanied migrant children would be “safe, healthy, and unified with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible.”

The HHS – which houses the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) – is responsible for the temporary care of unaccompanied children who are referred by US immigration officials.

“Though ORR has worked to build up its licensed bed capacity and currently funds over 14,160 licensed beds (the highest in the program’s history),” Stevens wrote, “additional capacity is critical in order to continue to provide a safe place for children to be released from border patrol stations. As a result, HHS has added approximately 14,246 Emergency Intake Site beds to aggressively address both the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing numbers of UC referrals from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

 Stevens stated in the letter that HHS was attempting to aggressively move toward the long-term goal of acquiring enough state-licensed beds to reduce the need for emergency intake sites.

 If chosen, the Greensboro site would be available to help ensure that migrant children aren’t kept in border patrol stations longer than 72 hours.  Anyone watching the national news in recent months has known that that’s been a big problem for the federal government.

The federal onsite assessment of the American Hebrew Academy location was conducted on Tuesday, May 4, but county officials don’t yet know what that assessment found.

 The letter from Stevens stated that HHS will continue to keep local and congressional officials apprised of the situation as things move forward.