Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings does not want Central Florida to be home to a shelter for unaccompanied children who illegally cross the border.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement wants a site that can house 500 children and 500 workers in total with two acres of recreational space. The federal government is eyeing a Travellodge near the intersection of Orange Blossom Trail and State Road 528.
Orange County told the federal government that the property isn’t zoned for a group home and it would need a special exemption with public hearings.
“I don’t want to see it in our community because it is such a divisive issue,” Demings says. “We have the authority and the regulatory right to establish our home rule and the land uses here.”
The federal government is also looking at locations in the city of Orlando and in Lake County.
Meanwhile the Trump administration proposal is drawing strong opposition from the region’s Democratic leaders.
Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, himself an immigrant, points out the federal government can’t circumvent local laws.
“We have our own policies and zonings that we have in our cities and counties, and you cannot come in and put your hands into it. I want to remind you in the state of Florida for over 50 years in our constitution we have a law that protects what local officials can do, and you can’t bypass that.”
He and other Central Florida Democrats say separating children from their families is harmful to their mental and physical health.
Central Florida Democrats are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to intervene.
State Sen. Linda Stewart says she has received no response from the governor after sending two letters voicing her concerns.
“Either he’s going to say, ‘It’s perfectly fine. I don’t have a problem.’ Or he’s going to say, ‘I will try to intervene.’ I have heard neither comment.”
DeSantis did not immediately respond to requests for comment from 90.7 News. Recently he has characterized the issue as a federal and not a state one.