Feds wanted to house children in U.S. illegally at Grand Island hotel

Grand Island, N.Y. (WIVB) – Federal officials showed up at a Grand Island hotel on Friday morning, on an apparent scouting mission.

A manager at the Byblos Niagara Resort and Spa, located at 100 Whitehaven Road, confirms to News 4 that the hotel was visited Friday by officials from Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Department of Homeland Security.

They apparently thought the hotel was vacant, and were considering using it as temporary housing for children who’ve come to the United States illegally, without an adult guardian.

Neither Byblos nor the Town of Grand Island were contacted ahead of time, and now, Town Supervisor Mary Cooke is asking a lot of questions.

Foremost, she said, “Who does this? How does this not become much more vetted, much more discussed?”

Cooke said she first learned of the plan on Friday. Going through emails, she discovered one that had been forwarded to her by Assemblyman John Ceretto’s office.

The email, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said HHS would “be conducting an initial assessment… to determine whether [the hotel] may be used as a facility for temporarily housing [children] who have come to the United States from other countries without an adult guardian… We have also alerted Governor Cuomo’s office.”

“So I sent it on to the town board, and then responded to our Assemblymember’s staff and said, what does this mean? Does the town have any say?” Cooke told News 4 on Saturday.

By law, HHS has to provide for the care and custody of unaccompanied alien children.

According to a fact sheet, included in the email to Ceretto’s office, the majority of the children served come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Most are between 14 and 18 years old, and three-quarters are boys. HHS says the average length of a child’s stay in the program is currently about 35 days. Approximately 85 percent of the children served are reunited with family members, at the conclusion of that stay.

The email also contained a link to a Presidential Memorandum, dated June 2, which directs the government to provide “humanitarian relief” to unaccompanied alien children, “including housing, care, medical treatment and transportation.”

“The numbers, in four years, have gone from 7,000 to 8,000 a year. This year, it is supposed to be 60,000,” Cooke noted. “I just have no idea about the purpose of this. I don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish. It seems odd that we’re going to be bringing people from the southwest, and bringing them to New York. Who’s paying for this? Who thought it’s a good idea? How smart is it to allow 60,000 unaccompanied children to come to America? I can’t even fathom that this is smart, prudent.”

“I had no clue this was going on. That’s what scares me, because this seems like this could be the tip of the iceberg; this is only one of God knows how many things that are going on, like this,” Cooke said.

No one from the various federal agencies involved responded to News 4’s emails and phone messages Saturday.

It is unclear whether Grand Island remains a location under consideration for the program.

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