Mississippi officials oppose plan to house migrant children in old Harrah's Tunica hotels

TUNICA, madam. — Local officials will not support a proposal to house unaccompanied migrant children at two former casino hotels in northwest Mississippi.

The Tunica County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Thursday against issuing a letter of support after opposition from Republican Mississippi state officials and the local sheriff, local news media reported.

Shantrell Nicks is an attorney who works for a company called Rapid Deployment, which wants to repurpose the vacant hotels. She said at the meeting that a letter of support from the province would have been an important part of the company's proposal to the federal government. WHBQ TV reported that the proposal should be submitted on Monday, although it is unclear what happens next.

Nicks told those attending the meeting that the facility would accommodate up to 250 children ages 17 and under, not the 2,000 previously discussed. WREG-TV reports.

She said the facility would hire local workers and operate for five years, there would be no visitors and the children and teens would stay indoors.

“There is no pressure on the local authority as a result of this temporary childcare centre,” Nicks said. “We are not going to try to enroll these children in local schools.”

The hotels were part of the Harrah's casino complex closed in 2014. The casino was demolished, and other proposals reusing the hotels was not successful.

The supervisors voted after discussing the plan again in closed session. Mississippi's U.S. senators as well as some other Republican officials had opposed the plan.

“Many of my constituents expressed concerns about the impact of this project on the community,” U.S. Senator Roger Wicker said in a statement Friday. “It was clear that Tunica County's health care, transportation and other services were unprepared for this sudden influx. I am pleased that this decision has been put on hold for the time being, but I still have concerns about a similar proposal in the future.”

Wicker sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday opposing the plan.

Tunica County Sheriff KC Hamp previously said the county does not have the resources, including a hospital, to care for immigrants, and they should be taken to neighboring communities. Some other local officials said they favored efforts to redevelop the complex to improve tourism and gambling in Tunica County.

Opened in 1996 as the Grand Casino, Harrah's was designed on a grand scale, culminating in 1,356 hotel rooms across three buildings. The 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 once the closest 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 customers.

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