In the San Fernando Valley, a company called VisionQuest wants to rent a vacant two-story building to house some of the 76,000 kids that U.S. Customs and Border Protection say crossed the border alone during the last fiscal year.
To build this facility -- and similar ones nationwide -- VisionQuest received a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The proposed facility in the San Fernando Valley -- in the neighborhood of Arleta -- would be in Congressman Tony Cárdenas’ the district. But he argues that it doesn’t belong in that residential area.
“The company VisionQuest has a horrendous reputation of not treating people well and actually violating their rights with verbal abuse, food deprivation, humiliation, intimidation,” he says. “There have been reported deaths in some of their facilities. And their reputation is far, far from any organization that should be handling the lives of children.”
VisionQuest has a history of citations for violence dating back to the 1980s. According to records obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city of Philadelphia cancelled a contract with them in 2017 after staff members choked, slapped and injured children.
“A facility like this is inappropriate no matter whose hands it's in. Many, many people have opined … that what has been taking place with these unaccompanied minors is inappropriate and is causing psychological damage to them that could last their entire lifetime,” says Cárdenas. “What the federal government should be doing … is to have the policy to place these young people in homes. But this administration chooses to try to keep these children in a prison-like facility.”
Cárdenas says that without approval from local government, the project cannot continue. The City of Los Angeles and its city council have the power to dictate what kind of facility can be built on a particular piece of property. Cárdenas also says he’s working to halt the use of these types of facilities across the country at the federal level.
“We have in fact passed legislation in the House of Representatives that sits idle in the United States Senate to try to correct,” he says. “It takes the cooperation of the White House that they're being completely uncooperative, and it takes the cooperation of McConnell. And McConnell is not being cooperative at all.”