Congressman Brian Higgins announced Monday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has withdrawn consideration for the Byblos Niagara Resort in Grand Island for its unaccompanied children effort.
"The federal government's handling of this situation was irresponsible and inexcusable," Higgins said. "A little due diligence would have made it clear that this site is inappropriate, preventing unnecessary confusion and concern in the community. The decision to exclude this site from consideration is the right one, and no surprise to those who live here and are familiar with the property."
In a communication to the congressman's office, an HHS representative wrote, "we have learned that the assessment of the Byblos Niagara Resort in Grand Island, NY and The Lexington Commerce Center in Rochester, NY conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration found that the facility would not meet our requirements for the unaccompanied children effort. Consequently, we will not pursue that site further."
Higgins office first learned about a visit from federal agencies considering the site late Friday. His office made numerous calls to federal agencies and local interested parties to get to the bottom of the situation. Earlier today, the congressman followed up by sending a letter to Eskinder Negash, the HHS director of office of refugee resettlement, opposing any consideration of the Grand Island site. The text of the letter reads as follows:
June 23, 2014
Director of Office of Refugee Resettlement
U.S. Department of Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
370 L'Enfant Promenade, SW
Washington, D.C. 20447
Dear Director Negash,
I am contacting you to express my opposition to the consideration of the Byblos Niagara Resort and Spa in Grand Island, NY as a Health and Human Services (HHS) temporary housing site for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC). I am aware of the recent influx of UAC minors from Central America detained at the southern border and share your concerns for their wellbeing.
However, a fully functioning hotel is an inadequate place to house minors who require a twenty-four hour security presence. It is a comedy of errors that federal agents followed the recommendation of a local development firm that does not own the property and immediately proceeded to perform an onsite investigation without conducting appropriate background checks. It is unacceptable that officials arrived unannounced and uninvited, prompting a great deal of unnecessary concern and confusion within the community.
Due diligence should have lead officials to undertake a preliminary and circumstantial review before a site visit. If federal agents had simply made a phone call to the general manager or owner of the hotel, they would have learned this company had not volunteered for consideration, recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation, is fully occupied for this summer, and an insufficient location for young children.
I am asking that the Byblos Niagara Resort and Spa be removed from consideration immediately. In advance, I thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Member of Congress