In the coming days, LA County will begin hosting thousands of unaccompanied minors, children fleeing poverty and violence mostly in Central America.
So far, two sites have been tapped by the federal government with buy-in from local officials: The Long Beach Convention Center and the Pomona Fairplex. In Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia said his city will host 1,000 kids — exclusively siblings. The plan in Pomona is to take children between ages 12 and 17.
“It’s not a detention facility … it’s not cages, it’s not a jail, and it’s certainly not a detention camp,” LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said during a recent briefing at the Fairplex. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
But those assurances have done little to tamper concerns by activists and some immigrant rights groups. Protesters in Long Beach have taken to the streets in recent days to express their distaste for this plan, and many are committed to shutting down the convention center plan.
“I got ripped apart from my parents and it wasn't my choice,” said an activist who goes by the name of JoJo, while sharing a personal experience in front of the Convention Center last weekend. “Just like these kids, it's not their choice to be in there.”
Other immigrant groups in Los Angeles, including The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), support the decision to house these kids in the county, despite disdain for the practice under the last administration. Karla Navarrete, who is a staff attorney at CHIRLA, acknowledged this will be controversial. But in her mind, it comes down to the realities these children currently face, especially those crossing the border from Mexico.
“It’s gonna be controversial because our position is: Let Long Beach house these children while they transition. Because guess what? The alternative was the streets of Tijuana,” Navarrete said. “The alternatives were horrible shelters. So anyone who doesn't understand that didn't walk that path.”
One of the major questions looming is how long children will be housed in places like the Fairplex and the Long Beach Convention Center. Mayor Garcia said his city’s contract with the U.S Department of Health and Human Services expires on August 1.
“The work will not be done by August 1, but as relates to our center here, August 1 will be the date,” Garcia said. “And that's because these facilities are set up and meant to be temporary.”
Even so, there are more protests planned for the coming days and weeks as well as possible legal action.
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