ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (CN) - The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement is opening a shelter for child refugees at Holloman Air Force Base in the New Mexico desert town of Alamogordo.
Due to open on Jan. 24, the shelter will be located in what used to be the 4th Space Surveillance Squadron building on the base. It is expected to hold up to 700 unaccompanied children - mostly from Central American nations - being cared for by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The goal of the shelter is to provide the children with housing, food and medical care while Health and Human Services and other agencies search for relatives living in the United States or pursue foster care options.
A fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of Human Services Administration for Children and Families states that the Office of Refugee Resettlement's unaccompanied children's program averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 children a year up until 2012, when the numbers started rising dramatically.
In 2014, the program received more than 57,000 referrals for unaccompanied minors, mostly children between the ages of 14 and 17.
In a statement, Health and Human Services called opening the shelter "a prudent step to ensure that HHS is able to meet its responsibility, by law, to provide shelter for unaccompanied children referred to its care by the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Border Patrol can continue its vital national security mission to prevent illegal migration, trafficking, and protect the borders of the United States."
The department said it is responsible for the care of the children, who will not attend local schools or integrate into the community. The average child will spend 32 days in the shelter and all are supervised at all times, the department said.
Mike Espiritu, director of the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce, says that the chamber will be the first point of contact for the public seeking information regarding the housing of the children at the Holloman camp.
"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," Espirtu told the NM Political Report. "Because at the end of the day, it's going to take care of those young people, no matter who they are."
Alamogordo is the county seat of Otero County, in south-central New Mexico, and has a population of just over 30,000.
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