Tempers Flare Over Temporary Shelter for Undocumented Immigrant Children

Tempers and harsh words flared in Escondido Tuesday between pro-immigrant activists and opponents of a proposed shelter for undocumented immigrant children.

Last month, the Escondido Planning Commission denied a permit to allow a 96-bed facility for undocumented immigrant children to be run by the non-profit organization, Southwest Key.

The plan was to convert the shuttered Palomar Continuing Care Center into a 24-hour, 96-bed facility housing immigrant children ages 6 to 17.

City commissioners explained the permit denial because of inappropriate and too intensive of land use, traffic, noise and safety.

However, some pro-immigrant activists, like Alejandra Ramos of Fuerza, question the political agenda behind the decision.

Ramos remembers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with her family when she was 9 years old and can empathize with the thousands of unaccompanied minors that have flooded the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks.

“I can only imagine what it is to cross the border alone,” she said.

She was among supporters of the shelter who spoke at a news conference at Escondido City Hall Plaza. 

At the planning commission meeting Tuesday night, the vote denying a temporary shelter was expected to be finalized. As of 8 p.m., the meeting was still underway.

However, Ramos and other supporters including representatives from the ACLU of San Diego said they planned to ask commissioners to reconsider their vote.

“The Latino population is over 49% of the city and it’s time they listen to us,” she said referring to what she described as an ongoing anti-immigration sentiment in city policies. "That we are here, present and that we’re not going to stay quiet to their racist political practices.”

San Marcos resident Rigo Abelar was one of several dissidents who listened to supporters speak. At this point, he spoke out.

“This has nothing to do with race. I live here too,” Abelar argued. “It’s not about race. It’s about throwing money down a hole.”

“These are children. Children, who are by definition, alone,” said Elizabeth Camarena, of Casa Cornelia, a free legal resource center for undocumented immigrants in San Diego. “Each deserves a safe place to live as they go through the legal system.”

Camarena said she's been working with children in Southwest Key centers for more than 13 years. The facilities have operated for many years without incident, she said.

“We have an opportunity to set an example and open up our communities,” she said.

Fuerza members plan to march Tuesday evening to rally support for the temporary housing solution.

Southwest Key runs juvenile justice programs, workforce and housing services, schools and shelters for immigrant youth all across the U.S.

Since October 2013, Southwest Key reports more than 15,400 undocumented immigrants have come through their nationwide facilities, including shelters in Lemon Grove and El Cajon.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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