Local Experts Weigh in on Migrant Children Housed in San Diego - NBC 7 San Diego

Local Experts Weigh in on Migrant Children Housed in San Diego

"This is a violation of human rights," said one activist

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    Local Experts Weigh in on Migrant Children Housed in San Diego

    A look inside a Lemon Grove detention centers where migrant children separated from their parents stay. (Published Tuesday, June 19, 2018)

    Since early May, about 2,300 migrant children have been separated from their families. 

    "It certainly is a violation of human rights," said Pedro Rios, director American Friends Service Committee in San Diego. "The United Nations has spoken out about this that families should not be separated." 

    Many are held in detention centers. Children receive vaccines, schooling, means, and counseling while there. The average stay is 57 days. 

    “We are very concerned they may be detained for a very prolonged time," said Cesar Luna, an immigration attorney in San Diego. "We believe that more than 60 days is too much for a four-year-old to be away without any parental guidance.” 

    Psychological Effects of Separating Migrant Families

    [DGO] Psychological Effects of Separating Migrant Families

    The staff at San Diego Center for Children have worked with abused and foster children all over San Diego County. They say one of the most traumatic experiences children face no matter what kind of home situation they came from, is when they're separated from their parents. NBC 7's Megan Tevrizian reports from Linda Vista.

    (Published Tuesday, June 19, 2018)

    The practice has provoked a national uproar fueled by stories of children being torn from their mothers' arms and of parents being deported without their kids.

    Many people have expressed concern for not only the children's mental well-being but their physical comfort as they wait. There are three centers in San Diego, Casa El Cajon is the largest with 65 children. There is also Casa Lemon Grove and Casa San Diego.

    The Trump administration adopted a new "zero tolerance" policy in April designed to curb a wave of Central American migrants who say they are fleeing violence at home. Homeland Security officials now refer all cases of illegal entry for prosecution.

    "We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does, for doing the job that the American people expect us to do," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the National Sheriffs' Association in New Orleans. "Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get-out-of-jail-free cards."

    Luna adds that these children should be legally entitled to a process to gain citizenship and/or asylum.  

    "Any person who comes to the United States should have an immigration process and a determination on whether they are qualified for relief," said Luna. 

    Authorities say they are required to remove the children before they can prosecute the parents, but many parents have remained separated from their children long after being convicted.

    The Consulate of Mexico, located in downtown San Diego, said Tuesday that there have been seven cases they have assisted with of migrant children being sent back to Mexico to be with their families. 

    "The Mexican Counsel of Representation has direct access in San Diego County to the detention centers and shelters where the children are located," said Marcela Celorio, Consul General of Mexico. "We have been successful in getting in touch with the parents and children." 

    Celorio added the Consulate of Mexico is reaching out to other Consulates for Honduras and El Salvador to teach them best practices in handling cases. 

    Celorio said she believes the U.S. Government is being transparent when it comes to the conditions children are living in at these centers.

    San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Tuesday tweeted a statement detailing his thoughts about the separation of families at the border, saying that the Trump administration should rescind its policy immediately.

    "As the Mayor for the busiest port of entry in the United States, I know firsthand that we need a safe and secure border, but I am against separating parents and children," the statement read in part. "Families shouldn't be used as bargaining chips in the fight over how to repair our broken immigration system."