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Questions Go Unanswered About a Federal Facility for Illegal Migrant Children in Southern California

Office of Refugee Resettlement exploring vacant properties in Riverside County

By Michelle Mears, August 21, 2019 9:56 pm

Riverside County, California – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported the Office of Refugee Resettlement is exploring vacant properties in Southern California to house unaccompanied alien children. However, many questions are left unanswered by the federal government.

On August 5, a notice was posted by the General Services Administration, a department that manages the leasing or construction of federal buildings. The post stated that the federal government was seeking to lease space for up to 17-years in Riverside County.

The facility according to the post would have to be large enough up to house 430 minors who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico Border. 

Democrat Congressman Mark Takano wrote a letter expressing his outrage over this type of facility in his community.

“It seems like almost every day, we learn of new despicable ways President Trump is targeting immigrants, making it harder for asylum seekers to find refuge in America, and instilling fear in our communities. My Democratic colleagues in Congress and I, along with the American people, have condemned the cruelty, neglect, and human rights abuses being perpetrated against immigrants in detention facilities at our southern border and across the country,” wrote Takano.

Despite Takanos opposition to a detention center, by federal law when Unaccompanied Alien Children are under HHS custody they must provide care for each UAC, defined as a child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States; has not attained 18 years of age; and, with respect to whom, there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.

According to Takano, he is attacking President Trump for this proposed facility that was made possible by Congressional members under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. This act was a directive by Congress to transfer the care and custody of minors to ORR from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to move away from the adult detention model. In the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which expanded and redefined HHS’s statutory responsibilities, Congress again made directives that each child must “be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child,” subject to considerations of whether the child is a danger to self or others.

Republican Congressman Ken Calvert told the California Globe, “The number of unaccompanied children arriving at the southern border has increased by almost 70 percent this year compared to last year. With record numbers of immigrants crossing our borders it is no surprise that the impacts are being seen and felt around the country, including here in the Inland Empire.”

Takano, who is a member of Congress, is attacking President Trump for facilities made possible by the House of Representatives 17 years ago. These facilities, according to Calvert, are needed because of the uptick in minors crossing the border.

Although Takano wrote a letter against a facility for alien children, local government officials don’t have enough information to make a statement for or against it. 

Chief of Staff Jeff Greene for Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said, “Per our Economic Development Agency Director they have not been asked for assistance from the county in any official capacity.”

Jessica Kokish the Broker Representative working with the GSA told the California Globe she was ordered by GSA Officials to not discuss the lease space with the media and to direct all questions to the GSA Public Information Officer.

The GSA was contacted via phone and emailed multiple times with basic questions about a future facility for unaccompanied minors in the Inland Empire. The GSA Public Information Officer said they did not have “approval’ yet to provide answers to the public.

Lisa Vinton, a member of the Murrieta Patriots, an organized immigration watchdog group in Murrieta, CA said, “As local (Riverside County) American citizens, we are frustrated by the lack of transparency by the federal government, as well as the refusal for local government to push for answers.”

Calvert said, “We need to focus on reducing the incentives that bring people here illegally and that put children at risk. That is why I have called on the Judiciary Committee to take up legislation to fix our broken immigration system and introduced legislation to mandate the use of E-Verify to cut off the job magnet. Until we address the root cause of illegal immigration, truly gain operational control of our borders and have effective interior enforcement, we will continue to find ourselves in the same position.”

Vinton said the Murrieta Patriots want local government officials to be more involved with the federal government and their plans that affect Riverside County, “We understand that this illegal immigration issue is a challenge on many levels, but If they are trying to get answers from the federal government, and are being denied or ignored, then say so. But to not stand up for those they represent, is disgusting. With regard to the fact that local facilities are being considered to house these illegal immigrants, I’m not surprised. Until Congress stops politicizing this crisis and recognizes it as a humanitarian crisis, we will fail our citizens, as well as those who come here looking for a better life.”

Takano’s full statement is HERE.

Michelle Mears

Michelle Mears is a reporter in Southern California who has covered news in Riverside and San Diego County for 20 years.
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