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Schumer says Fort Drum is not seriously considered for child refugee site

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The prospect of hundreds of refugee children being placed at Fort Drum seems unlikely, according to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

“I don’t think they’re considering Fort Drum that seriously,” he said at a news conference Wednesday in Syracuse. His comments were reported by North Country Public Radio.

During discussions with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sen. Schumer said he was told there were several problems with such a placement.

“The bottom line is — what I think should happen is, first, no one who comes across the border illegally should be allowed to stay,” he said.

The senator said the children should be treated humanely, and have a quick decision made about their eligibility to stay.

“If it’s determined they are here illegally, they have to go back home,” Sen. Schumer said.

Among those problems was that a vacant space on post to house them is currently being used by Army Reserve and National Guard troops, and won’t be available until August.

No decision has been made about placing children, but rumors about a local placement started following after reports of a classified ad seeking workers for multiple positions at Fort Drum, including nurses, counselors and housekeepers.

Recently, shelters have been opened at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Naval Base Ventura County in California and Fort Sill in Oklahoma, with the Department of Defense giving approval to keep them open for 120 days.

If refugee children were housed on Fort Drum, they likely would see little to none of the north country outside the installation.

A department spokesman relayed on Wednesday that all of the children’s activities, including outdoor recreational periods, take place within the grounds of the temporary facility. The children are not allowed to attend local schools.

The department’s Office of the Administration for Children and Families, under its Office of Refugee Settlement, operates a program for minor refugees who do not have a parent or guardian to care for them. Children placed in the program are offered foster care and other benefits.

The department has reported in the past few years an exponential increase in the number of children coming to the United States unattended, from an average of about 6,775 annually from 2003 to 2011, to 13,625 in fiscal year 2012, to 24,668 in 2013. It is projected that 60,000 children will come to the border in 2014.

Most of the child refugees, the department said, come from Guatemala, followed by Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. In its fiscal year 2013 statistics, the department estimated about a quarter of the children are under 14 years old. The average stay for the children in shelters, the department said, was about 35 days, as department staff looked for a sponsor to house them until an immigration decision is made.

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