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Immigrant kids housing at Sharpe?
Central American children could be placed in Lathrop
The signs at the main entry gate to the DLA Sharpe Depot have been painted over since the distribution center has transferred its operations to its Tracy site on Chrisman Road. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

LATHROP – The official-looking Department of Defense signs have been painted over. 

Traffic onto and off-of the Sharpe Depot – which until September of last year was still a crucial part of the Defense Logistics Agency’s trio of complexes in San Joaquin County that utilized major West Coast transportation corridors to ship goods worldwide – has slowed to a crawl. 

And the entry-points that were one time fortified with sand-filled plastic barriers and concrete k-rails now offer straight sight-lines onto an installation that has been strategically important for the US military for decades. 

But could it become the temporary home for migrant children that are crossing the southern border into the United States in conjunction with a law proposed by then President George W. Bush and approved by congress that makes it illegal to send minors back to the Central American countries they’ve fled without at least first going before a federal judge?

Word broke last week that the Department of Health and Human Services had began communicating, at least in part, with local public officials about the possibility of using some of the base’s old barracks buildings to house the children. Tens of thousands have flooded into places like Texas and New Mexico and the issue has become a national political crisis. 

Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal said that he was informed of the possibilities, but had last heard that using the Sharpe Depot as a staging area was a plan that was being put into a holding pattern until more information could be obtained. Nobody from the DHHS was able to return a phone call by press time. 

“The way that I understood it they were putting that idea on the backburner for now,” Dhaliwal said. “There were discussions and it may be revisited, but it doesn’t appear that they’re going that route at the moment.”

As per the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act of 2008, minors from Central American countries that cross into the United States without a parent cannot be repatriated without first being given a hearing in front of a federal judge. The law was intended to give children being sold into sexual slavery a place where they could find asylum, but it has since become flashpoint for border politics in places like Texas where the argument over illegal immigration has grown to a fever pitch. 

Just what a satellite holding facility in Lathrop would entail has yet to be revealed, but plans are already in the works to convert a portion of the base’s barracks into a military school modeled after the successful ChalleNGe Youth Academies in other parts of the state. The school, which was proposed by Stockton Assemblywoman Susan Talamentes Eggman, has received co-sponsorship from Democratic State Senator Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Modesto Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen. 

The City of Lathrop has long held a relationship with the depot, and until a few years ago the facility allowed for Lathrop residents to come swim in the pool that was built for staffers and their families during busier times. That agreement dissipated during a change in base leadership. Now Lathrop High School has its own pool.