Following United States District Judge Dana Sabraw’s ruling on June 26, 13 children who were housed at the David and Margaret Youth and Family Services facility in La Verne have been returned to their families as of July 26.
The ruling required all detained minors, ages 5 and older, who were separated from their parents at the border after attempting illegal border crossing, to be returned to their parents within 30 days of the June 26 ruling.
Sabraw issued the ruling in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ zero-tolerance policy issued in May on illegal immigration.
The policy resulted in thousands of children as young as 6 months being separated from parents.
Charles Rich, executive director of David and Margaret Youth and Family Services, said the majority of the children, between 6 and 17, came from Honduras, a country plagued by high levels of violence and criminal activity.
Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are the most common countries that the David and Margaret facility receives children from, Rich said.
Rich attributed this trend to the agreements that these three countries have in place that allow their youth to move freely upward to escape extreme violence and trauma.
Nadine Nakamura, associate professor of psychology, said that children from these countries have a higher risk factor of developing mental health issues.
“I think it is probably safe to say that people who are fleeing from violence have already experienced trauma,” Nakamura said. “The thing that is probably keeping them going is the family support that they have. Then to take that away from them and expose them to more trauma…how much can a person take?”
“Central America is a real hotbed for refugee movement, by virtue of economic and political turmoil,” said Jed Leano, Claremont resident and immigration lawyer.
Leano also said that close to a third of his clients looking to immigrate into or avoid deportation are pursuing asylum from the persecution of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership of particular social groups.
Of all the clients Leano represents, only a third of them come from Spanish-speaking countries.
While David and Margaret was among the facilities who made the 30-day deadline, many organizations housing separated children did not.
“I definitely take ICE’s word that they devoted all of their resources to meeting the deadline,” Leano said.
“The problem is that they never had the resources to conduct this [reunification] in the beginning. They set themselves up for failure by enacting a policy that they could never undo.”
Sabraw also prohibited ICE from detaining immigrants without or apart from their minor children, unless the parent poses a viable threat to the children’s safety.
In 2011, the David and Margaret facility was approved for a government grant that allowed them to provide care for unaccompanied youth or children separated from their parents as a safety precaution.
This government program has already familiarized the David and Margaret organization with the process of taking in separated and unaccompanied youth.
“We have had youth in the past that were separated from their parents at the border,” Rich said. “It’s not a new phenomenon, it’s just more pronounced.”
The 13 children who were brought in were housed at David and Margaret through the same federal grant issued in 2011.
Nicholas Athey, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of La Verne, said that there is no easy solution to solving the current problems with immigration.
“This is something that is happening, has happened, and is not going to go away,” Athey said.
“The best thing we can do is find an appropriate harm-reductionist approach to ensure that we are able to manage the circumstance so that we are actually able to integrate people into society.”
The facility followed standard protocol for these children, including video surveillance of outside perimeters; supplying food, drinks, education and clothing; as well as medical treatment and access to licensed or license-eligible on-site therapists.
Rich said that there are children coming into their facility that benefit highly from the therapy due to the trauma of their backgrounds, which include sex trafficking or turmoil in their native countries.
The therapists also function as case managers responsible for attempting to reconnect the children with their family or a sponsor.
The minors are placed in one of the numerous cottages around the David and Margaret facility. The facility resembles the structure of a college dorm: shared kitchen, living quarters with a television, recreational area and multiple two-bedroom suites with shared bathrooms and showers.
Psychotropic drugs are provided to children on an as needed basis, provided that the prescriptions were written by a licensed physician after a medical examination is conducted.
Rich said that, in the extremely rare case, children who exhibit severe behavioral problems were sent to other states since facilities in California are much more regulated in regards to the treatment of the youth.
Some of those other states are less concerned about the basic human rights of immigrant children.
The Shiloh Treatment Center in Texas, another contracted government facility, was sued for the administration of psychotropic drugs for minor behavioral issues.
In the event that the facility receives a child who poses a significantly higher flight factor, no additional security measures are taken other than making the staff aware of that risk, Rich said.
In alignment with the Office of Refugee Resettlement policy, the David and Margaret facility strive to return all immigrant children housed at their facility within 30 days.
“The longer people are separated from their families, the worse it is likely going to be for them,” Nakamura said.
The facility is responsible for arranging all of the travel logistics, while the family members or sponsors are expected to pay back the child’s transportation cost to the David and Margaret facility.
While the 13 children have been returned to their families, David and Margaret Youth and Family Services is contracted to house a maximum of 59 children who are either unaccompanied or separated from their families at the border.
They are always generally at capacity, Rich said.
Christian Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.