SAN ANGELO, TX — That 20,000 migrant children may be coming to San Angelo to be housed at Goodfellow Air Force Base blindsided Tom Green County Judge Steve Floyd this afternoon. Reporting from the Pentagon near Washington D.C., Military Times reporter Tara Copp quoted Army Col. Rob Manning at a press briefing saying as many as 20,000 unaccompanied minors who crossed into the U.S. without a parent will be housed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo.
The number is large, as it will balloon the population of Tom Green County more than 20 percent. Not mentioned in the press briefing was how many additional support personnel will be needed to care for the children. Those children will need to be fed, attend some kind of school, recreate, and be housed which requires housekeepers, and be provided security. Copp headlined the story as the number of children could outnumber base personnel four to one.
Military personnel will not be charged with taking care of the children, however. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will, according to federal law. The children are called Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UAC. Most of the 5,100 military personnel based at Goodfellow AFB are students training for either the intelligence field or to become firefighters. They are not qualified to care for up to 20,000 children regardless.
Judge Floyd, who as the head of the County’s Emergency Management Team, has sat in on every briefing concerning the planned opening of the UAC facility at Goodfellow AFB. He said the last number he heard was up to 7,500 children will be housed here.
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said this evening that the total number of UAC in care of the HHS as of today is about 11,800 minors. That number is an estimate because, “Every day minors are referred to our care and released from our care to parents, close relatives or suitable sponsors,” Oakley said.
Floyd said the base has received a standing order to prepare for the HHS team’s arrival to construct the temporary facility. Floyd said Goodfellow AFB 17th TRW Commander Ricky Mills was expecting to receive the execution order on June 26. That execution order hasn’t been made yet, and no UAC are at Goodfellow AFB as of today.
There are no visible signs of the building of the center, either. The UAC center will likely be built on the southeast corner of the base property south and east of where the old runways are, according to multiple sources. The facility will have its own entrance, and that entrance may be located near the end of S. Chadbourne St or Old Eola Rd. that traces the base boundary on the south side.
Floyd said once the execution order is received, he expects the facility to be built in a very short timeframe. The last date he heard for the facility to open is July 31. “It’s a very intense situation,” Floyd said.
Floyd said if the facility comes, there is a silver lining: it will be a plus for the local economy. The workers and contractors will need to be housed and they will need to eat. It is speculation at this point, but Floyd believes local hotels and motels will see their occupancy rates increase.
On the other hand, Floyd expressed his worries about what the UAC center will do to Goodfellow AFB’s primary missions. “We have a vested interest in the success of the missions at that base. Will this damage those missions? And what impact will it have on the community as a whole?” Floyd asked. “We will deal with it and hopefully help this mission (caring for the UAC) be a success.”
Floyd said San Angelo-area governments and NGOs have a very strong working relationship. “It’s strong and broad, and we’ve seen much success with the P4 initiatives,” he said. “P4” is a federal program that encourages local governments, the universities, and federal government at Goodfellow AFB to work together on projects to share resources to improve or make more efficient government agencies and services.
These working groups may soon have a bigger challenge to solve.
“There’s a lot of concern about what is about to happen,” Floyd said. While noting that what the HHS does will be a known quantity, he is uncertain about the ancillary impact of the UAC facility. “We’ve got to worry about housing in the area. What about the national media? And will there be protests?” Floyd speculated.
Floyd said local government officials met Thursday with members of the State of Texas district disaster coordinators at a meeting facilitated by the Concho Valley Council of Governments.
Meanwhile, HHS and the Department of Homeland Security are working through Federal District Judge Dana M. Sabraw’s injunction issued last Monday on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Her injunction orders the federal government not to separate children from their parents who came to the U.S. illegally.
“Whatever happens, I am confident we can get through this,” Floyd said.