OLYMPIA FIELDS - A facility in Olympia Fields that was being considered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily house Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) from Central America was crossed off the list of potential sites Monday morning.
An HHS assessment of the former monastery "found that the facility would not meet our requirements for the unaccompanied children effort. Consequently, we will not pursue that site further," Fatima A. Cuevas, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislation, wrote in an e-mail.
The HHS' decision followed a social media outcry over the weekend initiated when Congressman Randy Hultgren (IL-14) notified Illinois media that HHS was considering a site in south suburban Olympia Fields as a potential location to house children from Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala that crossed the border without adult guardians.
“This week, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contacted me, announcing preliminary steps being taken to begin moving Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) to locations in Olympia Fields, Illinois, as well as other locations throughout the Chicagoland area," Hultgren said in a statement.
"We should immediately halt this effort. It is an ill-conceived stop gap solution that will only exacerbate the terrible situation for these children. Moving these children further away from the border unnecessarily elongates their legal limbo at orphanage-style federal facilities while they undergo removal proceedings."
Hultgren's release started a snowball effect as Illinois Review picked up the story, and national news aggregator Matt Drudge added the story to his popular website. No other Chicago media picked up the story.
Monday morning, Hultgren's office notified media about the HHS office's decision, still questioning exactly how the HHS made their decision to pull consideration of the Olympia Fields site. Olympia Fields is in Chicago's south suburbs, far away from Hultgren's far west suburban district. Olympia Fields is located in Congresswoman Robin Kelly's 2nd CD.
"We assume we were notified about the consideration because Congressman Hultgren represents a district that is located in the Chicago area," Hultgren spokesman Jameson Cunningham told Illinois Review. "The decision would affect the region."
Cunningham said he was unaware which, if any other, members of Congress knew about HHS' plans.
"I'd assume others besides Congressman Hultgren were notified," he said.
He also said that it was entirely possible that other sites in Illinois were under consideration.
Congresswoman Kelly's office issued seven press releases June 18th, the day after Hultgren received the HHS email about the Olympia Fields' facility. However, none of the seven press releases listed on Kelly's website mention the Olympia Fields location being under consideration.
Hultgren, who has been focusing on human trafficking as a pertinent issue for his district, remains concerned about the welfare of the alien children who are without parents or home.
“When minors as young as 13 are in danger from being exploited by human traffickers, moving these children even further from the border to the Chicago area is a wrong move for their safety—and the administration did not think this through,” said Rep. Hultgren. “These children, unaccompanied by their families and under the control of smugglers and trafficking organizations, don’t need a stop gap solution. They should be returned to their home countries quickly and with human dignity, not left to languish in legal limbo.
"Further, I repeat the call to send the National Guard to the border. If this truly is a humanitarian crisis as the president has said, we need to support our Border Patrol which is overwhelmed by this influx of immigrant children."
Hultgren said the current system on the books is endangering children.
"While its original goal may have been to stop human trafficking, it has become a loophole human traffickers are now exploiting. These children can be fully exploited and end up as sex slaves or forced into service for the drug cartels, and no one knows what happens to them after they are put into the hands of traffickers," he said Monday.
"While the White House may now be sending funds to a few key countries to encourage those children to stay home, they are sending mixed messages by continuing to disburse these minors to taxpayer-funded sanctuaries across the country while their cases are processed. We need to send clear messages to these countries and the children at risk of exploitation.”
HHS emails about the Olympia Fields site: