The General Services Administration (GSA) is searching Northern Virginia for a possible site to locate a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors. If selected, the site would house around 440 children and could open as early as July 2020. The GSA is looking to sign a 15 year lease on this site.

As the Washington Business Journal reports, the GSA, which oversees real estate for the federal government, is looking at eligible sites across Northern Virginia on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The shelter would house children who crossed the border illegally without their parents or other legal guardians, were detained by border patrol, and placed under the care and custody of the DHHS Office of Refugee Resettlement.

A recent announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to build a detention center near Baltimore also got the attention of local officials, many of whom oppose the government’s immigration policies. We explore what moves by the federal government mean for the region.

Produced by Ingalisa Schrobsdorff


  • Daniel Sernovitz Staff Reporter, Washington Business Journal; @WBJDan


  • 12:00:02

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Yesterday on this show we discussed military recruiting on campus in light of the Trump administration banning transgender individuals in the service. One of our guests on that show related being trans to eating disorders, suggested that being trans is a mental illness. We always aim to discuss issues with care and intention. So I apologize for not correcting those comments on the air yesterday. And I'd like to thank all of the listeners who weighed in on that issue.

  • 12:00:36

    KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast the National Philharmonic is struggling financially to the point where the orchestra almost went dark. We look at the efforts to keep the music playing and the state of classical music in this region. But first the federal government is searching Northern Virginia for a site to shelter, to house unaccompanied immigrant minors. If a site in Virginia is selected it could house over 400 minors. What do you think about that, the federal government seeking that site in Virginia? Give us a call. Joining me in studio is Daniel Sernovitz. He is a reporter with the Washington Business Journal. Dan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:08

    DANIEL SERNOVITZAnd thank you for having me.

  • 12:01:10

    NNAMDIWho would be housed in this potential shelter?

  • 12:01:13

    SERNOVITZWell, the federal government is looking at up to about 440 unaccompanied minors. These are children who came to the United States without parents or guardians. Were taken into custody by the DHS and the federal government is not trying to find places to put these children, and they've identified Northern Virginia, and they've also identified other sites in Los Angeles and Miami, but this is very early in the process at this point.

  • 12:01:45

    NNAMDITo be clear this shelter would not house children separated from their parents at the border. That's a separate issue, right?

  • 12:01:51

    SERNOVITZThat's right. That is another can of worms.

  • 12:01:53

    NNAMDIWhere exactly in Northern Virginia is the federal government looking for a site and what are the specifics they're looking for in a location?

  • 12:01:59

    SERNOVITZWell, they've identified what we generally consider to be Northern Virginia and so that means Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria, Falls Church, all the counties and cities that we traditional define as that. And they're looking for a facility where they can lease up to about 110,000 square feet. Also a couple of acres for recreational facilities and this is something that would be operational 24 hours a day. And they're hoping to open it up in July of 2020, and so they've got a lot to do in a little bit of time.

  • 12:02:37

    NNAMDIBut apparently Northern Virginia is not the only potential site for this shelter. Where else is the federal government looking?

  • 12:02:43

    SERNOVITZThat's right. They are looking across country. Other locations that have been identified are in Los Angeles and Miami. And based on the terms of the solicitation that was issued on--well, the pre-solicitation and so not quite a formal solicitation, but based on that they are looking specifically for a site in Northern Virginia and it would seem that that is one of their chosen locations depending on what they find.

  • 12:03:15

    NNAMDIWhat's the timeline we're looking at here? If it were located here, when would this shelter be opened?

  • 12:03:20

    SERNOVITZIt would -- they're slated for July of 2020. And so that's, of course -- the timeline could be sped up if they find an existing facility that meets all their needs rather than new construction.

  • 12:03:34

    NNAMDIDan, I'm interested in how you learned about all of this.

  • 12:03:36

    SERNOVITZWell, I cover commercial real estate for the Washington Business Journal and I have all sorts of tips and traps. And I can't reveal all of them to you, Kojo. But I can disclose that this was posted to And they do let you create alerts for specific agencies and specific needs. And this one did pop up in my inbox.

  • 12:04:02

    NNAMDIThis is actually the GSA, the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees real estate for the federal government. They're doing this on behalf of which federal department?

  • 12:04:13

    SERNOVITZThey're doing in on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and its office of Refugee Resettlement, and this would be a long term requirement. They're looking at 15 years. So this is not, you know, just an overnight makeshift facility that they're talking about.

  • 12:04:31

    NNAMDIHere is Caroline in Montgomery County, Maryland. Caroline, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:04:37

    CAROLINEThank you very much, Kojo. I'm calling because, well, I understand the distinction that this facility is for unaccompanied minors and not separated children that whatever the requirements of this facility that they be significantly more than cages with cement floors and foil blankets. And in fact that it be rooms with beds and blankets and care that these children need however they came here. We are better. They deserve better.

  • 12:05:11

    NNAMDIThank you very much, Caroline. We also got a tweet from BeyondDC, who says, shelter to house unaccompanied minors is a pretty whitewashed way to say concentration camp for locking up children. It's my understanding that they're not only looking for parking spaces. They are also looking for sufficient, I think about 280 acres for recreation and sports facilities?

  • 12:05:33

    SERNOVITZWell, they are looking --

  • 12:05:35

    NNAMDIMaybe not 200, two acres.

  • 12:05:36

    SERNOVITZWhat's that?

  • 12:05:37

    NNAMDIHow many acres are they looking for?

  • 12:05:39

    SERNOVITZWell, it's a single building that would be up to almost 110,000 square feet. And there would additionally be two acres for recreational facilities and parking for 280 parking spaces. Now, you know, to the caller's point and I haven't seen any rendering or specific designs. But, you know, if we're looking at 110,000 square feet and 440 children, you know, that works to be 200 -- 300 square feet a person. You know, hopefully -- you would hope they're not just putting these children on the cold floor, but we shall see as this process goes forward.

  • 12:06:23

    NNAMDIThe GSA is looking for quoting here, "Expressions of interest from those with space fitting the government's parameters." Do you see this as a deal that many property owners would be interested in or it is too politically sensitive as our caller and Twitter indicated?

  • 12:06:37

    SERNOVITZThat is a very good question, Kojo. And I think a lot of it will depend on what we're going to hear. Local governments were only recently notified of this. And so I think we're at the stage right now where folks are absorbing this. But if you're a property owner that potentially meets this -- the set of requirements that the federal government has imposed, you know, you also got to keep in mind, okay, what kind of reception is this going to get? Is this going to be tied up in the courts for years? Who knows what that variable is going to be?

  • 12:07:12

    NNAMDIThat variable, of course, has to do with the fact that this area has a large number of progressive jurisdictions whose elected officials oppose the government's handling of immigration. So the political climate here may lead some of the lawsuits that you were talking about for people, who don't want it located here.

  • 12:07:27

    SERNOVITZThat is true. And you've also got enrichment, of course, a democratic governor and a republican weighted legislature, and the legislature did advance a couple of immigration bills this past session. One that would have banned sanctuary cities, and, of course, Governor Northam vetoed that. And so, you know, to the extent that this becomes a larger national debate rather than just a local jurisdictional real estate project, this could become quite a complex issue.

  • 12:08:03

    NNAMDIOf course, the legislature may change significantly come November, because every single seat in the General Assembly is up for election. Similarly Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a search for a site near Baltimore for a detention center, which has also gotten local pushback. But there are moves by the federal government, is there really anything a local jurisdiction can do outside of lawsuits to stop it?

  • 12:08:26

    SERNOVITZWell, that depends on what sort of a position they take. But I mean, really we're talking about federal government and the appropriations process. And the local governments have some say in that, but not all that much since the administration is in the driver's seat here.

  • 12:08:50

    NNAMDILocal governments may not have veto power over it. This is all part of larger moves by the federal government including proposing to move the majority of the department of agriculture out of D.C. You wrote about this recently and the concerns that were triggered by it. What do these moves signal to you?

  • 12:09:05

    SERNOVITZWell, they signify kind of an ongoing push. You know, the question of whether federal agencies need to be based here in D.C. where the cost of living is higher where the cost to rent office space is higher, and so there has been calls over the years to move agencies to lower price markets. But the question that a lot of people wonder about right now is whether we're moving from talk to action. There are two divisions within the USDA. There's also proposal to move the headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management out of the region. And so we're talking about hundreds of jobs potentially moving from D.C. And so that is something that's unsettled a lot of folks in the commercial real estate industry certainly, as well, as the large economy.

  • 12:09:55

    NNAMDIWe'll have to see what happens. Here's Kathleen in Bethesda. Kathleen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:10:00

    KATHLEENHi, thanks for taking my call. I have a question about, who is taking of care of the children, if people are being vetted. I've read reports in Texas and other states where there were allegations of abuse, and people were not finger printed I guess that were taking care of the children. I want to know what their childcare qualifications are, and also just from a human mom point who is picking these kids up when they are hurt and when they are sick.

  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDIWe may be getting a little ahead of ourselves at this point, because at this point we're discussing where or not this land will be made available to the federal government in Northern Virginia. But do you know anything about the specific of the facilities like the qualifications that people employed there would be required to have?

  • 12:10:47

    SERNOVITZI'm not as familiar with that. There was mentioned in the search terms that this facility would be staffed by a contracting staff about 147 people. And so that's a contract that would be led by the federal government. And you would certainly hope that there will be measures put in place to ensure the safety and welfare of these kids.

  • 12:11:09

    NNAMDIDaniel Sernovitz is a Reporter with the Washington Business Journal. Thanks for dropping by.

  • 12:11:13

    SERNOVITZAnd thank you for having me.

  • 12:11:14

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back the National Philharmonic is struggling financially to the point where the orchestra almost went dark. We look at the efforts to keep the music playing and the state of classical music in this region. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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