Closed casino hotels in Mississippi could house unaccompanied migrant children

FILE - The Veranda hotel on May 13, 2014, in Tunica Resorts, Miss., one of two hotels being considered to house unaccompanied immigrant children in northwest Mississippi. The hotels were part of a Harrah's casino complex that closed in 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
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Associated Press

TUNICA RESORTS, Miss. (AP) — Officials are considering a proposal to house unaccompanied migrant children at two former casino hotels in northwest Mississippi, an idea that has drawn opposition including from the local sheriff who said the county lacks resources to accommodate the plan.

Local news outlets reported that the repurposed facility would house as many as 2,000 children and teens at the hotels that were part of the Harrah’s casino complex, which closed in 2014. The casino was demolished, and other proposals to reuse the hotels have not succeeded.

County supervisors met in executive session Monday to discuss the project, but Tunica County Attorney John Keith Perry told WREG-TV that supervisors have not officially endorsed the plan.

“Obviously, anything that deals with immigration is a hot-button issue,” Perry said.

Perry said the current owners are in talks with a private entity interested in buying the property, which he says is in good condition after being closed for 10 years.

Any facility housing immigrants ages 17 and younger would have to meet federal regulations, Perry said, and his understanding is the facility would be “self-contained.”

“So, you don’t have children that would be out and about for their safety reasons,” he said.

The facility would also have to comply with a court settlement governing how the federal government treats migrant children, including limiting how long they can be confined.

Tunica County Sheriff K.C. Hamp said Wednesday that the county doesn’t have resources, including a hospital, to care for immigrants, and they would have to be taken to neighboring communities.

“When it concerns public safety, public healthcare, along with child protective services, Tunica County does not have a local hospital in the event of an emergency,” Hamp said in a statement.

State Rep. Cedric Burnett, a Democrat from Sardis who represents the area, also opposes the plan, saying he supports efforts to redevelop the complex to enhance tourism and gambling in Tunica County.

“I think that location should be used to compliment the gaming industry,” Burnett told WREG-TV. “You know Tunica is a tourism town, we depend on gaming.”

Burnett said the benefits of using the hotels to house migrants would be limited to the current owners and the people operating the facility.

Harrah’s opened in 1996 as the Grand Casino and was conceived on a grand scale, topping out with 1,356 hotel rooms across three buildings. Its now-demolished casino floor was the largest between New Jersey and Las Vegas.

Tunica’s casino market has been in decline for more than a decade, While it was once the nearest gambling destination to parts of the South and Midwest, most of those states now have their own casinos. A casino in West Memphis, Arkansas, has also lured away patrons.