Orange County Convention Center considered, rejected for unaccompanied children’s shelter

Orange County Convention Center
With bookings picking up, the convention center no longer has availability.

Federal officials checked out the Orange County Convention Center as a possible emergency shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children, but it was rejected because space wasn’t available at the right time, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Wednesday.

The Mayor said he gave federal authorities a tour of the center as a possible relocation site for thousands of children huddled in overcrowded facilities at the Mexican border.

However, the convention center did not have the space available for the times the federal authorities needed and the option was rejected, Demings said in a statement.

“I was contacted by the Federal Emergency Management Administration to explore the potential use of the Orange County Convention Center as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children in order to decompress the situation at the border. County staff provided a tour of the Convention Center and space availability. However, due to existing commitments, the Convention Center could not provide the space for the requested period of time and the federal government decided not to pursue the option any further,” Deming stated.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Wednesday afternoon that the federal government had considered the center to house as many as 5,000 children. The federal government was looking for 300,000 square feet of space, the newspaper reported.

The Orange County convention center has more than 2 million square feet in two large buildings along Orlando’s International Drive, making it the second-largest convention center in the country, after Chicago’s. But convention business has been picking up.

The Sentinel reported that Demings said he turned down the request because the convention center has seen a recent increase in summer bookings of trade shows and conventions and no longer has the idle space it has had for much of the past 12 months.

Thousands of immigrants have been pouring into the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks, in anticipation that the administration of new President Joe Biden would let them in. The result has overwhelmed U.S. Customs and Border Protection resources.

Earlier this month Biden assigned the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help out.

The Biden administration has continued expelling adults who try to cross the border under a coronavirus-related public health declaration enacted by former President Donald Trump. Biden also has tried to expel most families traveling together, but changes in Mexican law have forced agents to release many parents and children into the U.S.

Biden has declined to resume the Donald Trump-era practice of expelling unaccompanied immigrant children. Several hundred kids and teenagers are crossing the border daily, most fleeing violence, poverty or the effects of natural disasters in Central America. In some cases, parents refused entry into the U.S. have sent their children across the border alone, hoping they will be placed with relatives eventually.

The Biden administration for the first time Tuesday allowed journalists inside its main border detention facility for migrant children, revealing a severely overcrowded tent structure where more than 4,000 people, including children and families, were crammed into a space intended for 250. The youngest were kept in a large play pen with mats on the floor for sleeping.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]


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