Grand Forks Air Force Base will not be a temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors coming from Central America, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., announced Feb. 8.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was considering using the base to house the children, many of whom have tried to escape drug and gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in recent years. The idea drew criticism from Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, both Republicans, who cited logistical concerns of using a facility far removed from the border and the "inappropriate use of a military base."
But in an interview with the Herald last month, Heitkamp said she hoped "the prevailing attitude in Grand Forks will be one of welcoming these children" if the HHS chose to house them here.
HHS decided against using Grand Forks Air Force Base facilities because they cannot hold enough people, have never been used for housing, don't have windows or access to infrastructure for a kitchen, dining and food preparation, according to a press release from Heitkamp's office.
"Today's decision by HHS was made after officials from the agency visited Grand Forks Air Force Base and assessed whether or not the base met the federal government's needs to temporarily house unaccompanied children fleeing unfathomable violence in Central America," said Heitkamp. "But if it were under consideration again in the future, I would hope that Grand Forks and all of North Dakota would welcome these children who have to live day-to-day in some of the most dire situations that we can't even fathom."