| Photo by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
By Yajaira Garcia Meza and Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Thousands of migrant children could be arriving soon to Camp Roberts as part of the Biden Administration’s plan to remove them from immigration facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s a plan that officials prefer over keeping them at cramped facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. And it’s a plan that’s finding a lot of critics on various sides of the political spectrum.
Immigrant rights activists on the Central Coast don’t want to see children in inadequate facilities, and a National Guard base is certainly not a place for kids, said Marshall James, an organizer with Democratic Socialists of San Luis Obispo County.
“It is clear that (President) Biden doesn’t have a strong desire to change what he inherited,” he said. James referred to reports that toxic materials remain in the old military-style buildings at Camp Roberts, which was built during World War II. “They are housing them in a polluted military base,” he said. (It’s) super awful.”
James and about 30 other activists representing Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Center (SIREN) and Mujeres de Acción, traveled on May 8 to an overpass near Camp Roberts, about 16 miles north of Paso Robles, to demand a halt to plans that the base be used as housing for immigrant children. The activists, who came from as far away as Oakland and Bakersfield, hung a banner on the bridge to raise awareness about the issue.
“We can’t turn a (blind) eye because it is not affecting us,” said Adriana Melgoza, co-founder of Monterey Rapid Response Network. “We must protect the children and that their voices are heard and (we) can’t allow abuse.
“Monterey County is low on legal services. Why allow kids to be detained? It is immoral, we are traumatizing the kids, living conditions are horrible. Building more centers is not the solution, those resources can be spent to reunite families.”
One of the many policies Biden said he would change when elected was to end the detention of thousands of Central American refugees arriving daily on the southern border. His promise was soon tested when a massive influx of unaccompanied minors ended up at the U.S. doorstep in March and April.
The government is moving away from keeping children indefinitely at U.S. Custom and Border Protection facilities, but finding their families or sponsors if they are seeking asylum is a lengthy process, and while they wait they are transferred into the care of the U.S. Health and Human Services. Under a 2015 court decision, the government should aim to keep children detained no longer than 30 days.
With the recent influx of migrants at the border — 19,000 in March — the HHS has faced the monumental task of finding enough places to process them for reunification or asylum. Hence the potential need for Camp Roberts.
Over in neighboring San Luis Obispo County, the potential arrival of 5,000 minors and the staffing needed to care for them is also worrying communities. Writing for The Paso Robles Press, business owner Aaron Bergh said this wave could cripple the county’s recovery efforts after the pandemic.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of federal employees, will be needed to support the children. This has serious potential to overwhelm Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo county hotel capacities and take away space from tourism – the vital backbone of our city’s economy,” he wrote.
On April 27, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved unanimously a resolution welcoming the migrants to Monterey County. But the resolution also asked for federal government protections for the minors and that they be kept in humane conditions, that they be unified with their families or sponsors in less than two weeks, that they be provided legal representation.
“We’re asking for transparency, HSS has to provide health information and data,” Supervisor Luis Alejo said during the meeting. Alejo also said Monterey County officials and “trusted community based organizations” be allowed to tour the premises.
Activists have launched a petition to urge Rep. Jimmy Panetta and Rep. Salud Carbajal to oppose efforts by the Biden administration to detain immigrant children at Camp Roberts.
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.