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Border & Immigration

Shelter For Immigrant Children Could Open In Escondido

Shelter For Immigrant Children Could Open In Escondido
The Escondido Planning Commission will decide whether to approve a children's shelter Tuesday. Central American and Mexican children have been showing up alone at the southwest border in record numbers since late last year.

Escondido may soon shelter some of the unaccompanied immigrant minors who have been arriving in recent months at the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers.

On Tuesday, the Escondido Planning Commission will consider a proposal to turn a building that used to be a continuing care center into a temporary shelter for the minors. The shelter would house 96 beds.


The building, previously owned by Palomar Health, would be leased by Southwest Key, an organization that contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to house and care for immigrant youngsters.

Escondido Planning Commission Packet On Immigrant Shelter
Escondido Planning Commission information packet on proposed shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children, June 24, 2014.
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U.S. authorities are dealing with an unprecedented surge in immigrant children arriving alone at the southwest border. Border agents apprehended 52,193 unaccompanied children (age 17 and under) at the border between October 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures.

That’s a 99 percent increase over the same period last year. Most of the children are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced three new, large temporary shelters to house the children until they can be reunited with family members while awaiting hearings in immigration court. But the federal government has been quietly working to establish smaller shelters, like the one proposed for Escondido, at sites around the country.


Jay Petrek, assistant planning director for the city of Escondido, said the Department of Health and Human Services contacted the city about opening a shelter in April. Petrek said HHS first proposed to locate the shelter in an abandoned hotel in a commercial zone. It then set its sights on the 2.31-acre Palomar facility.

About 90 employees would care for the children. A child typically would stay in such a shelter for 10 to 60 days, according to the proposal. The children would not be allowed to recreate outside, though the facility does have several indoor recreation areas.

Most services, including education provided by the San Diego County Office of Education, would be delivered on-site. However, “off-site services may include religious services, medical or dental appointments, and educational or recreational field trips,” according to the proposal.

A 6-foot-tall fence would be built to provide security and “keep residents from wandering off the site.” The proposal requires a temporary-use permit from the city of Escondido and faces some political opposition.

Petrek said he had received about 15 emails and letters from Escondido residents opposed to the new shelter, and none in favor. Concerns included increased security risks, the possible spread of airborne illnesses, and potential future overcrowding at the shelter. (see Southwest Key’s answers to these concerns, page 24)

According to Southwest Key, less than 1 percent of unaccompanied minors at their shelters leave without permission.

A recent United Nations report on unaccompanied migrants fleeing Central America points to a web of factors driving the exodus, including widespread violence and a desire to reunite with family members living in the U.S.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama declared the rise in immigrant children at the border an “urgent humanitarian situation,” and directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate a response.

The operating budget for the proposed Escondido shelter would be $6 million to $7 million. Petrek said the shelter likely would employee local residents. He said if approved, the city would also encourage Southwest Key to buy supplies for the shelter from local providers.

The Escondido Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. to take up the proposal. If it’s approved, opponents have 10 days to appeal the commission’s decision.