As federal officials started the first wave of deportations of undocumented migrants who've recently entered the U-S, churches and non-profits in Western Washington are preparing to assist up to 600 children who may soon be housed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Once all relevant information about the appropriateness of the facility has been gathered and analyzed, a final decision will be announced by HHS,” said Kenneth J. Wolfe, Deputy Director, Office of Public Affairs Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the meantime, some two dozen Puget Sound area nonprofits met Monday to discuss ways to assist the children with everything from legal counsel to social services and health care if they do come to JBLM.
“We think it would be inhumane, inappropriate and immoral to just deport these children," said Michael Ramos, Church Council of Greater Seattle. “We believe the Northwest is a welcoming and hospitable place. We want to convey the message that we want to accompany these children to security and safety and a good livelihood."
Ramos said his organization has been in contact with the state’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Senator Patty Murray, to offer advocacy services to the migrant children. Ramos said the children and teens are primarily refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and are fleeing extreme poverty and violence.
“So basically, they’re fleeing for their lives,” he said. Ramos said his organization wants to ensure the children are represented by legal counsel as they fight for remain in the U.S. and that they have full access to medical and social services.
JBLM spokesman Joe Piek, said the base has plenty of space, including vacant barracks that could be used to house the migrant children.
But some advocacy groups oppose placing children at the military facility.
“We don’t know what kind of psychological terror they’ve been through and putting them in a military base, prisoner style is not how we should be treating human beings,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, a consultant for Latino Advocacy. “These children should be treated as refugees. They’re coming and asking the U.S. to welcome them. They’re not coming into the country in hiding, they’re coming voluntarily to border control saying, I’m here.”
Latino Advocacy said the children should not be deported but should be allowed to stay, either with relatives here in the U.S. or with people willing to offer them support.