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Wal*Mart Outside Rochester Eyed As Immigrant Children Detention Center

(WBEN/AP) An abandoned building that was once a Wal-Mart in Sweden, just outside Rochester in Monroe County is apparently under review for possible use as a detention center to hold some of the thousands of immigrant children that are swarming America's southern border.

  More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors have poured across the southwestern border of the U.S. in recent months
AP Photo
A Guatemalan child deported from the United State poses for photo in front of a map of the Guatemala City at an immigration shelter in Guatemala City

AP Photo
A toddler sits on the floor with other detainees at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville,Texas.   (AP Photos)

The building in Sweden NY has been vacant for approximately 7 years, and the US Dept. of Health and Human Services is evaluating the building  “to determine whether it may be used as a facility for temporarily housing children who have come into the United States from other countries without an adult guardian.”

The move comes after US Immigration Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol officials arrived at the former Grand Island Holiday Inn last weekend  to assess it's suitability as a possible detention center.

Upon arrival there they found what they thought was a vacant and available building had in recent years been renovated into an active resort, hotel and spa.

Congressman Chris Collins,  whose district includes the former Wal-Mart, says "New York State taxpayers should not be forced to cover the costs of another Obama Administration failure."

Collins said the immigrants should be housed closer to the border they illegally penetrated.

“I would just suggest not here. My comment is, they’re crossing the border in Texas and Arizona, that’s where they should be,” Collins told WHEC.

Downstate congressmen Steve Israel and Peter King say the federal government is also considering a former defense plant site in Bethpage Long Island  to relocate some of the children. Newsday reported that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is studying a site at a former Grumman plant to house some of the children.

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HEAR Immigration Attorney Matthew Kolken of Kolken & Kolken, Buffalo

About a month ago, border patrol agents were suddenly overwhelmed by thousands of Central American immigrant children and women seeking to enter the U.S. Because officials had run out of room at holding facilities, they began releasing immigrant families and requiring them to report back within 15 days.

Most of the immigrant families are from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala and cannot be immediately repatriated, so the government has been releasing them into the U.S. interior and telling them to report within 15 days to the nearest U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement offices. Despite promises for better transparency on immigration issues, the administration has been unwilling to say how many immigrant families it's released - hundreds or thousands - or how many of those subsequently reported back to the government after 15 days as directed.

AP Photo
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers waiting for new arrivals in the intake area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz.

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility (AP Photos)  

In recent days, President Barack Obama has called it a humanitarian crisis, warning parents of the dangers of sending children with smugglers. Republicans have accused the administration of encouraging  the waves of immigrant children crossing the border illegally, with policies that promote amnesty.

How many have been released?  Senior U.S.. officials directly familiar with the issue, including at the Homeland Security Department and White House, have so far dodged the answer on at least seven occasions over two weeks, alternately saying that they did not know the figure or didn't have it immediately at hand.

"We will get back to you," the Homeland Security deputy secretary said Friday.

The belief that women and children can safely surrender to authorities the moment they set foot in the U.S.. has changed the calculus for tens of thousands of parents who no longer worry about their children finishing the dangerous trip north through Mexico with a potentially deadly multiday hike through the desert Southwest.

""I've never seen anything like it. I don't think there is anything that can rival it in the history of US immigration law,"  says Matthew Kolken, a Buffalo area immigration law attorney. 

And it has immigration and border patrol scrambling to find a detention solution, he says

"They have no idea how to deal with the issue, and rightlfully so. No one could conceive of the day when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors streaming into the United States." Kolken, of Kolen and Kolken said on a recent appearance on WBEN's Hardline program.

The government has limited options for detaining families caught crossing the border illegally, usually mothers with children. It has space for fewer than 100 family members at its only detention center for them, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The administration announced Friday that it will open new detention facilities for immigrant families, including a 700-bed facility at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, which is home to the Border Patrol's training academy. It didn't say when that new immigration jail would open or how many others it will build.

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People : Chris Collins
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