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Groups protest possibility of housing 5,000 migrant children at Camp Roberts

Camp Roberts (Ian Abbott/Flickr)

Several Central Coast organizations are pushing back against the possibility of temporarily housing 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children at military base Camp Roberts in San Miguel.

The Biden administration announced the proposal earlier this month, and if approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, the base would provide up to 30 days of shelter for all children not immediately placed with a family member or sponsor upon their arrival at the U.S. border.

While no official decision has been made, a coalition of over 20 organizations and advocacy groups, along with community members from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Monterey counties, gathered in mid-May to discuss safety and oversight concerns related to the use of the facility.

One main concern is whether the base could provide the same care for children as a licensed shelter due to its remote location and potential lack of oversight by local governments, coalition members said.

“The coalition agrees that California is a preferred choice as a welcoming state among the states that may be considered for locations. However, we cannot support Camp Roberts as a suitable site, nor can we support the use of any military base for such a purpose,” advocates said in a statement this week.

Congressman Salud Carbajal, whose 24th District encompasses San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, said that while Camp Roberts is obviously not an ideal location to house children in normal circumstances, he is confident it would be a better alternative to keeping them at crowded border facilities.

“The facilities at the border are untenable and inadequate conditions. When they get there and there’s a surge, [the government is] trying to get those children placed in satisfactory and adequate — not perfect — facilities,” he said.

While federal officials would bring in their own resources to manage the facility, Carbajal said he is pushing Health and Human Services officials to collaborate with local leaders and advocacy groups to provide services if Camp Roberts is selected.

Over the next few weeks there is also the possibility the base may not be selected at all, either due to lower influxes at the border or another location being secured, he said.

“In the next few weeks, we’re going to hear whether this is a go, if it’s been shelved, or if they’ll proceed in case they’re ready for a future surge,” Carbajal said.

While immigration advocates are pushing for the federal government to move away from using a military base as a temporary housing site, they said they are ready to welcome the unaccompanied children and help in any way possible.

Advocates have demanded, however, that the base be subject to California Child Welfare License standards for housing, nutrition, medical and behavioral health care as well as legal services.

“We all know these kids need a place to go while they are waiting to be reunited with their families. But our desire to protect and assist them doesn’t mean that just any location is OK. The first way we can be effective advocates is to ask ourselves: ‘Is the Camp Roberts location in the best interests of the children?'” said Maricela Morales, executive director of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.

Julissa Peña, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Immigrant Legal Defense Center, noted that the psychological trauma and language barriers faced by children separated from their parents makes them especially vulnerable.

“It is not in their best interests to be housed in remote influx centers with little oversight from immigration lawyers, medical professionals, local immigrant supporters and advocates,” Peña said.

Carbajal said he is not aware of any plans for local or regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices to be involved in any facility operations or planning.

An ICE spokesperson did not respond to questions about potential involvement by their agency prior to deadline.

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(c) 2021 Santa Maria Times

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