Escondido Planning Commission Rejects Shelter For Immigrant Children
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Aired 6/25/14 on KPBS News.
The Escondido Planning Commission voted 7-0 to turn down a federal government request to open a 96-bed shelter for unaccompanied immigrant youth in a former nursing home.
The Escondido Planning Commission voted unanimously against allowing a 96-bed shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children to open in a former nursing home. Commissioners cited concerns about insufficient parking for staff, and potential noise and safety impacts on neighbors, among others.
Some 500 people showed up for the hearing Tuesday night at the Escondido City Council chambers, packing the hallways and spilling out of the building.
The Planning Commission listened to comments from the public for nearly three hours — most of them in opposition to the proposed shelter — before voting 7-0 to reject the proposal. Some of the speakers had worries about potential noise, traffic and security risks. Others had bigger political concerns.
“By allowing this facility here in our hometown, we’re condoning what the federal government is doing that’s illegal,” said Karen Seibold, who lives near the proposed shelter site. “And that’s essentially leading these kids falsely to come to our shores and stay here.”
Seibold — and several others who spoke against the shelter — believes the unprecedented wave of Central American youth showing up alone at the U.S. border are attracted by false hopes of qualifying for an Obama administration program that offers relief from deportation for undocumented youth who grew up in the U.S.
Only those who have lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007, qualify for the program.
Border authorities in the Southwest have apprehended more than 52,000 unaccompanied immigrant children since October — a nearly 100 percent increase over the previous year. Children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are responsible for most of the increase.
A U.N. report based on interviews with more than 400 unaccompanied migrant children from Central America found that more than half faced violence in their homes or communities.
The federal government is struggling to house immigrant children while they wait for their hearings in immigration court.
Some people at the Escondido hearing did speak in favor of letting the shelter open. Several of them were loudly booed.
Daniel Perez, an Escondido business owner and community activist, said he thought “ignorance, intolerance and fear” were driving opposition to the shelter. And he said he didn’t think enough information had been given to the public to make an informed decision.
“I can’t say that I’m in favor or against, but let’s find a solution together,” Perez said. “Right now we have a crisis in which a lot of kids are suffering,”
Anyone can appeal the Planning Commission’s decision. A representative of Southwest Key, the government contractor that would have run the shelter, declined to talk about the decision.