North State Journal turned away from Greensboro facility contracted to house unaccompanied minors

Per a Dec. 8 federal agency memo, the campus is empty

American Hebrew Academy campus in Greensboro. Scott Pelkey | North State Journal

RALEIGH — North State Journal was denied access to a facility in Greensboro that, per a five-year contract, is supposed to be housing unaccompanied migrant minor children.  

The facility is the sprawling former campus of the American Hebrew Academy (AHA) located in Greensboro. The campus is situated next to a residential neighborhood on one side and bordered by a pond and commercial area on the other side. 

North State Journal approached the AHA campus on Thursday, Dec. 14 and encountered guards wearing a combination of military fatigues and safety vests.  

After identifying as members of the media and asked to gain entry or speak to someone in charge, North State Journal’s reporting team was told by two separate guards that they would give us no information and one saying, “We don’t allow media on site or for you to talk to anyone.”   

Adding to questions about why AHA is turning away media access to the site is that the campus is empty, according to a Dec. 8 fact sheet issued by the Administration for Children and Families in the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

“HHS has secured a facility in Greensboro, North Carolina as the site of the future Greensboro ICF. When opened, the ICF will provide shelter for boys and girls, 13 to 17 years old, and has a capacity of up to 800 beds,” the fact sheet reads. “There are currently no children in care at the site, and no current activation date. Opening the facility will depend on a variety of factors including capacity requirements and UC referral rates, among other considerations. Current facilities on campus will be utilized for education, housing, mental health, medical, and case management needs.”  

There should be children on the campus by now, as the five-year contract totaling  $49,758,414 has a start date of June 9, 2022, which is over a year and a half ago. The contract’s termination date is July 8, 2027, and the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the signing authority on the contract.  

Some 800 workers were also supposed to be hired under the contract to lease the AHA campus and “program services” were to be provided that include education, mental health and medical services, food, recreation, and “unification services that facilitate safe and timely release to family members or other sponsors who can care for them.”  

The Greensboro AHA site is one of some 300 facilities spanning 27 states that are housing illegal unaccompanied minor children while sponsors to host them are located.  

The website for AHA also displays text stating the campus was “leased to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Agency for Children (ACF) and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) effective June 2022,” and that the site is now called the “Greensboro Piedmont Academy.”  The HHS email address for press inquiries on the website was found to be non-functioning after a North State Journal email to the address bounced as undeliverable. 

The contract was the subject of a House Commerce hearing in May 2021, during which Secretary Xavier Becerra denied that the Biden administration was looking at leasing properties in the state to house illegal migrant children when asked about reports of such a plan by Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09).  

Becerra told Hudson at the time ”There is no plan that we have to shelter children in North Carolina.”  

To back his question, Hudson had entered into the record a Washington Examiner article dated May 7, 2021, that reported the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was “eyeing the American Hebrew Academy” to house minors in the country illegally. 

Greensboro officials later confirmed the lease of the Greensboro facility by HHS in a June 2022 press release. The press release also said Guildford County and City leaders were contacted by Becerra’s HHS in May 2021, throwing into question Becerra’s statement to Hudson that there were no plans to house migrant children in North Carolina. 

Becerra has been back in the hot seat over the past several months over the topic of the illegal migrant children that are supposed to be tracked by his agency. 

During a July 2023 hearing, Becerra was grilled over claims that children released to sponsors were subject to forced labor, or in some cases, were being trafficked. 

A month earlier in June, during a hearing held by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Becerra refused to take responsibility for his agency losing contact with over 85,000 illegal migrant children. Instead, Becerra dropped the blame on sponsors who take custody of the children, telling the committee, ”We don’t have jurisdiction over the kids that are in the hands of sponsors.”  

When migrant minors are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), they are subsequently transferred to the ORR, a division of Becerra’s HHS. 

Following historic surges in illegal immigration under the Biden Administration, hearings about neglect and abuse related to illegal migrant children, and the recent fact sheet’s release, North Carolina’s congressional delegation has become more active in seeking answers. 

On the Senate side, Republican Sen. Ted Budd has been actively advocating for the passage of H.R. 2 in the Senate.  

“This crisis must be dealt with, and dealt with now,” Budd said in a press release. “That’s why Senate Republicans have offered the Biden White House a deal: Include proven border policies in the House-passed H.R. 2 to the national security spending package, and you’ll have our support – A clear pathway. But so far, this White House is more interested in playing politics and continuing to ignore the border crisis altogether.”

“The bottom line here is that in order to be a strong nation, we have to have strong borders. And right now, we don’t have that,” Budd said. “I want to call on President Biden to change course, work with us so that we can solve this crisis together. We know what to do. All we need is a president who takes this seriously and fulfills his oath to protect and defend this country.” 

Per H.R. 2’s summary, it will make various changes to immigration law, including protections for children, imposing limits on asylum eligibility and requiring employers to use an electronic system to verify the employment eligibility of new employees.  

Co-chair of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability Rep. Dan Bishop (NC-08) has indicated his committee will be looking into the HHS contract for the Greensboro AHA facility.  

According to a report by Carolina Journal, the contract for the Greensboro facility includes companies linked to Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, a former immigration, Customs and Enforcement officer who is currently under investigation by a Homeland Security Congressional committee.  

Carolina Journal reported the companies include “Family Endeavors as well as Cherokee Nation Businesses,” and that Lorenzen-Strait ”also served on the Biden-Harris transition team.” The report also says Family Endeavors is “not directly involved” in the Greensboro facility project, however, the company was paid over $600,000 for an Influx Care Facility in Texas.  

Per the Nov. 3 fact sheet on “unaccompanied children” published by HHS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has found “suitable sponsors” for “over 410,000 unaccompanied children.” 

“As of November 3, 2023, there are 9,442 unaccompanied children in HHS’ care and the average length of time an unaccompanied child remained in ORR’s care was 28 days,” the fact sheet says. 

The fact sheet says the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program and ORR have “served fewer than 8,000 children annually for the first nine years,” but that starting in Fiscal Year 2012, the number of minors referred to ORR “saw a significant increase, reaching 13,625 by the end of FY 2012.” 

The program referrals have generally increased since 2016 and dropped substantially during the 2020 pandemic year, per HHS data. However, those levels have rebounded, skyrocketing into the hundreds of thousands during the FYs 2021 and 2022.  

  • 59,170 in FY 2016 
  • 40,810 in FY 2017 
  • 49,100 in FY 2018 
  • 69,488 in FY 2019 
  • 15,381 in FY 2020
  • 122,731 in FY 2021 
  • 128,904 in FY 2022 

In FY 2022, approximately 72% of all children referred were over 14 years of age, and 64% were boys. Approximates in FY 22 for the UC Program’s countries of origin are listed as: Guatemala (47%); Honduras (29%); El Salvador (13%); and other (11%). 

Based on the daily HHS UC data posted as of Oct. 31, from Jan. 2 through Dec. 7 of this year, there were 1,929,082 migrant minors under HHS care with only 64,957 discharged from that care during the same period.  

On the state level for North Carolina, HHS data claims 16,993 migrant minors were placed with sponsors between FY 2015 and FY 2023. That’s an average of 1,888 per year.  

The North Carolina data for FYs 2015-2022 ran from October of the base year to September of the next year. FY 2023’s numbers only covered the period spanning Oct. 2022 to March 2023. 

About A.P. Dillon 1201 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_