Naval Base Warehouse Converted Into Shelter for Immigrant Children

The shelter in Port Hueneme is one of three established by federal government officials to house hundreds of Central American children

A converted warehouse on a Southern California military base that once housed sailors preparing to deploy overseas is now filled with undocumented and unaccompanied immigrant children who were caught entering the country after surge in border crossings.

The 42,000-square foot warehouse at Naval Base Ventura County -- known as "Building 267" -- is one of three shelters established by federal government officials to house hundreds of Central American children. During a guided tour of the shelter Thursday in Port Hueneme, about 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a government official said the number of teens housed at the base could more than triple to 575 by early next week.

The official could not be named as a condition of the visit. An NBC4 reporter was among those who toured the building under certain other restrictions. Tour participants were not allowed to record video or audio, take pictures, ask questions or speak with children or staff members. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided photos of the property.

Federal authorities have also set up a shelter at a military base in Texas and are planning another for Oklahoma to cope with what they have described as an "urgent humanitarian situation." More than 47,000 children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended at the United States-Mexico border since the start of the budget year in October.

The children began arriving at the base on Friday. By Wednesday, about 180 children were at the shelter and 12 had been reunited with family members or placed with vetted sponsors.

Some of the children were sent to the United State by their parents. Others were sent to find their parents in the United States.

Children arrested at the border are transferred to United States Department of Health and Human Services custody and placed at a shelter until case workers find a relative or sponsor to care for them and ensure they attend immigration court hearings on government efforts to deport them.

At the Southern California location Thursday, posters of X-Men and Green Lantern were on the walls as teens talked about the opening day of the World Cup soccer tournament. The base has a dirt soccer field and televisions that broadcast the opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

The building is furnished with bunk beds, dining tables, lockers and air conditioning. There are classroom areas with posters featuring the president and icons such as Rosa Parks.

Girls and boys are housed separately and children bathe in individual showers.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday there is no free pass for children or anyone else caught trying to cross the border illegally.

"I am not encouraging in any way, shape or form illegal immigration," Johnson said. "It is not safe. It is not a desirable situation. I would encourage no parent to send their child or send for their child through this process."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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