The plan to use the vacant Ouachita Job Corps Center in Royal as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors from Central America has officially been scrapped, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-District 4, announced Wednesday.
Westerman received notification shortly after noon Wednesday from Barbara Pisaro Clark, acting assistant secretary for legislation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stating, "Upon further review of the facilities, resources available and need, HHS is no longer considering the site for use as a temporary shelter at this time."
"I am pleased the Department of Health and Human Services listened to the concerns of Garland County residents and local officials," Westerman said. "This plan by the Obama Administration was ill-conceived and did not take seriously the protests of residents, myself included. I thank my friend, Secretary Tom Price, for his quick action to stop use of this site as a shelter for unaccompanied minors."
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., also issued a statement Wednesday about the announcement.
"This is good news. I want to thank President Trump and Secretary Price for listening to Arkansans and removing the Ouachita Job Corps site from the list of possible locations for refugee shelters," Cotton said.
"I raised this issue with Secretary Price directly, and our staffs were able to work hand-in-hand to get this done quickly. I also want to thank the Royal community for their vigilance and for bringing this matter to my attention. This decision will help keep Arkansas families safe, and now they can use this facility for the betterment of their community."
The Hot Springs Board of Directors had unanimously adopted a resolution on Feb. 7 supporting a plan by the Arkansas National Guard to use the former Job Corps facilities as an adjunct campus for its Youth Challenge program for high school dropouts 16 to 18 years old. The camp would be used to house older students in the program, freeing up space for younger ones at the Camp Robinson campus in North Little Rock.
The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce had adopted a similar resolution in January, and chamber President and CEO Jim Fram told the board having the ANG's program close to the city "could improve a labor pool area employers have said is lacking and provide city and county schools a venue for alternative education."
The U.S. Department of Labor had transferred the Royal site to the U.S. Forest Service Dec. 3 after closing the Job Corps program there earlier in the year. The DHS Office of Refugee Resettlement had shown interest in the site as a temporary shelter for Central American children apprehended at the southern border without parents or guardians.
ORR officials said in January the site could help absorb the influx of unaccompanied children in U.S. Department of Homeland Security border stations awaiting ORR referrals.Local on 03/09/2017