A proposed facility in Arleta to house undocumented children who have been separated from their families after entering the United States drew a group of protesters Monday, with several local elected officials voicing opposition to the project.
The proposed facility at 9120 Woodman Ave. in Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez’ district in the San Fernando Valley would house children as they and possibly their parents await immigration hearings, according to Martinez.
Among those who gathered at the site to protest the project was Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Los Angeles.
“I will not sit quietly as a detention center opens in my district that would put more children in cages and separate families,” Cardenas wrote on his Twitter page. The post was accompanied by photos of protesters gathered at the site.
Earlier this year, the city council voted to create an ordinance that would ban the construction and operation of private detention facilities in the city. The developer of the Arleta facility, according to Martinez, is VisionQuest, which typically operates housing and services for youths who have been assigned to the company by a judge or foster services.
Martinez introduced a motion in November seeking information from the city’s Planning Department and City Attorney’s Office on the proposed location and the site’s zoning in an effort to determine if the area is suitable for the project.
“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I am vehemently opposed to placing immigrant children in what some call holding facilities or detention centers. I call them prisons,” Martinez said. “For-profit operations like VisionQuest, whose so-called expertise is in youth discipline programming, working for a dishonest federal government that actively engaged in and then lied about separating immigrant children from their parents is a recipe for human disaster. You should not be able to profit off of the anguish of children.”
Martinez’ motion is slated to be heard by the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee in the near future.
According to the investigative journalism website Reveal from The Center of Investigative Reporting, notes between city officials and VisionQuest indicate the company wants to lease the vacant two-story building in Arleta, and it “will host children who have entered the country as unaccompanied minors.” The building is a former senior living facility, according to Martinez.
Calls to VisionQuest’s headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, were not immediately returned.
In November, VisionQuest CEO Mark Contento said on his Twitter feed, “If 20,000 children suddenly showed up on your doorstep, what would you do? How would you deal with them? How would you take care of them? The Office of Refugee Resettlement is doing an incredible job. Would you?”
The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the child migrant shelters through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the agency.
City records show that VisionQuest’s “project team communicated that this would not be a detention facility,” according to Reveal. The city’s Planning Department website shows an application to change the use of the facility was submitted in October.
“Over the last three years, Los Angeles County has made clear over and over that we will not cooperate in the federal government’s demonization of immigrants and the destruction of their families,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement. “I vigorously oppose the opening of a proposed immigrant detention center for youth in my district. I do not believe that breaking up families has any place in American immigration policy, and I do not believe that tearing children out of their parent’s arms and placing them in cages makes America safer or more secure.”
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