Some of the thousands of immigrant children recently taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border are being cared for at a facility for foster children in La Verne.
As a result of the zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 7, thousands of children as young as 6 months have been separated from parents who are detained awaiting prosecution for illegal border crossing.
The David and Margaret Youth and Family Services facility on Third Street, less than a mile from the University of La Verne, is housing some of the roughly 100 of these immigrant children reportedly in Los Angeles County.
David and Margaret is a residential facility for children ages 11 to 21.
“Like the rest of the country, we are troubled by what has occurred at our borders,” Maggie Bohlman, director of development for David and Margaret, said in an email. “We do not set public policy … Our focus is to care for youth. We are committed to providing a safe, nurturing, and comforting environment to all the children we serve.”
According to its website, David and Margaret focuses on empowering “children, youth, and families through culturally diverse services that foster emotional, educational, spiritual, and identity development.”
There are many organizations similar to David and Margaret that have stepped up to help house some of the detained children.
“We don’t… support the separation of children from their families,” said Devorah Lieberman, president of the University of La Verne. “But if the children are separated from their families – which we don’t approve of – then we are very grateful that there are institutions who are taking the youngsters in and creating an environment that is as healthy as possible so that they can be reunited with their families.”
Jed Leano, Claremont resident and immigration lawyer, believes the issue is the approach to finding a solution.
“The problem with this immigration issue is that it is being argued by polarized sides,” said Leano, who is also running for the Claremont City Council. “If we keep arguing from polarized sides, we are never going to come to a solution.”
“In order to arrive at policy decisions, we need to respect each other’s opinions and find some sort of compromise.”
As an immigration advocate, Leano has supported the city of Claremont’s decision to forego inquiring into residents’ legal status.
“I believe that we ought to have policies that are fair – fair to all people, including immigrants – and I do not believe that local government ought to be complicit in unfair and unreasonable practices by immigration and customs enforcement,” Leano said.
Leano also said that his opinion on the matter may be moot, depending on the outcome of the current lawsuit regarding SB-54, a law approved by the California legislature that called for California to become a sanctuary state, allowing them to refrain from checking immigration statuses of its residents.
“When the district court in northern California rules on that, our policies may all be informed and governed by the result of that lawsuit,” Leano said.
While Sessions’ new approach does not explicitly focus on the separation of families, enforcement of the criminal aspect of 1996 legislation makes separation inevitable since adults captured at the border now face criminal charges.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 – sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Exclusionary Act” – provided the foundation for this new policy, as the Trump administration now looks to enforce the criminal aspect of the legislation through the Department of Justice, adding a criminal misdemeanor component to the charge, despite the precedent set by previous administrations to enforce only civil penalties.
On June 20, Trump reversed the zero-tolerance policy through an executive order, although this does nothing for the families that have already been separated.
Children whose parents have been criminally charged up until this executive order were placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
As a result of the ORR currently facing a shortage of available space for the detained children, the federal government has begun contracting third-party facilities, such as the David and Margaret facility, a privately owned organization, to help alleviate some of the overflow, which is why many organizations have begun have been contracted by the federal government to offer room and board for the children.
“I have no doubt that many of those crossing our border illegally are leaving difficult situations. But we cannot take everyone on Earth who is in a difficult situation,” Sessions said in a speech on May 7 in San Diego.
On June 20 the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement condemning the separation of families.
“Studies of detained immigrants have shown that children and parents may suffer negative physical and emotional symptoms from detention, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the statement read.
Christian Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.