Faith Leaders Express Concern Over Large Scale Facilities for Confining Children

For Immediate Release:  Monday, April 26, 2021
Press Contact: Hilda Cruz,

Los Angeles, CA— On April 8, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced that the Pomona Fairplex facility will house immigrant children and minors in a location which was used as a temporary detention camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. This news mirrors a similar arrangement to shelter children in the Long Beach Convention Center that has met criticism by some immigrant rights organizations.  As faith leaders, we urge officials at the local and federal level to pursue other humane solutions and investments of resources which would prevent the separation and detention of children and reunite them with their families or in caring homes as swiftly as possible. 

The administration has used various names to refer to these facilities, such as “shelters,” “influx centers,” “emergency intake sites,” and “reception centers.”  regardless of what they are called, the government is holding children in large scale detention facilities. Research from health professionals and child welfare advocates shows that depriving children of their freedom causes short-term and long-term harm. Experts say that children housed in such situations, even for short periods of time, experience severe trauma and “will suffer acute, sustained, and even permanent impacts to their minds and bodies”. All children, including those born in the United States, should only be housed, as a last resort, in small-scale, nonrestrictive licensed facilities, never in the large-scale facilities like the ones being organized at this time. 

We are concerned that “influx facilities” not only deprive children of their liberty but require less oversight than licensed ORR facilities, creating conditions ripe for abuse that have repeatedly occurred, such as at the infamous Homestead facility forced to shut down in 2019. An unknown number of children have been lost in the shelter system even when they had family waiting to receive them. 

90% of unaccompanied minors have families in the US and more must be done to prioritize family reunification and minimize trauma.

We call on officials to take the following steps towards humane solutions and investments of resources: 

  1. Immediately rescind federal border closure policies such as Title 42 which is exacerbating and increasing the number of “unaccompanied” children by denying entry of families and parents. Restore full access to asylum and ensure consistent access to legal counsel, child advocates and interpretation services. 
  2. End the practice of holding children in large scale influx facilities. In cases where a sponsor cannot be quickly identified within 72 hours, prioritize small scale, non-restrictive settings for unaccompanied children in facilities licensed for childcare and run by trusted community based non profits. 
  3. Change practices of Customs and Border Patrol which fail to recognize trusted family members with whom the minors are travelling, separates families and creates “unaccompanied” children.
  4. Apply substantial financial resources towards more rapidly vetting sponsors for situations where children arrive without a parent or legal guardian.  Establish a process with the Department of Health and Human Services at the border to more quickly identify, vet and support family or sponsors to whom children can be released without the use of influx facilities. 
  5. Apply substantial financial resources to more rapidly process asylum seeking children and families. Restore humanity in the process. Thousands of families with children are currently being forced to live in miserable, unsanitary conditions along the border, waiting for their limited opportunity to apply for asylum. 
  6. Provide full legal counsel to children and their families to support their due process of asylum.
  7. Provide post-release financial resources to children reunited with family members and sponsors to ensure stable housing, nutrition and adequate social services for effective immigrant integration and trauma recovery. 

The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity believes that in our country, we have the resources and the will to create humane and just practices to keep families together, welcome those seeking protection and refuge, and protect and nurture children. We must center values of dignity, compassion, freedom and care. As a community of faith we understand great leadership requires compassion, courage and integrity. We call on our elected officials to act accordingly.

Quotes from Faith Leaders:

“Migrant children deserve to be treated with the same care given to citizen children.  They are children, vulnerable and in need of our help. Children who have been through the traumas of poverty, extreme violence and separation from home and family as migrant children have all too often experienced, call out to us for humanitarian expressions of advocacy and compassionate care.  I have seen migrant children detained, at military bases behind guarded fences and in cages in repurposed factories along the border.  Warehousing children is inhumane whether we call the places where they are kept “influx” or emergency shelters.  We can and should do better.”

  • Bishop Minerva Carcaño, San Francisco Area, The United Methodist Church

“We are vigilant and wary of history repeating itself. This is not the first time the Los Angeles Fairplex served as a site of temporary incarceration.  From March-August of 1942, the Pomona Assembly Center, now known as the Los Angeles Fairplex, was a temporary internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. Japanese Americans were kept here until more permanent camps, like Manzanar, were constructed to house more people and families in far removed facilities. Now we are seeing this same site used to temporarily house unaccompanied minors. Other solutions must be pursued.”

  • Rev. Duncan Ryuken Williams, Zenshuji Soto Mission in Los Angeles & Tsuru for Solidarity

“Temporary “influx centers” must be seen for what they are: child detention facilities.  These emergency “shelters” do not serve to shelter immigrant children or families but rather are part of decades-old policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations that criminalize immigrants, rather than treat them as fellow human beings seeking to escape war, violence, oppression, poverty, and death threats.  There are more humane ways to receive, protect, nurture and resettle these children.  In addition, elected officials must use their leverage to stop the implementation of Title 42. They should encourage the Biden Administration to give protection from ICE enforcement to the minors and to the families with whom they will be living in the U.S.  The Covid-19 pandemic necessitates screening and care, not deportation.”

  • Sister Judy Lu McDonnell, OP and Lyn Kirkconnell, Co-Promoters of Justice, Peace and Care of Creation for Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose

“These emergency “shelters,” such as the one in Long Beach, are part of decades-old policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations that criminalize immigrants, rather than treat them humanely.   If elected officials are really well intentioned, they must also use their leverage to stop the implementation of Title 42. They should encourage the Biden Administration to give protection from ICE enforcement  to the minors and to the families that they will be living with in the U.S.”

  • The Rev. Nancy Frausto, Associate Rector St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Long Beach

“Child ‘shelters’ are an integral part of the larger system of immigration detention in our country.  We have met teens such as Misael, who turned 18 years old while in a shelter for immigrant minors. On his very birthday he was visited by ICE who handcuffed him and directly transferred him into an adult facility at the Theo Lacy Jail that served as an ICE detention center. This happens time and time again. There is no emancipation. Only indefinite detention.“

  • Rev. Dr. Jacob Buchholz, Senior Co-Pastor at Claremont United Church of Christ 

“We need to stop and ask ourselves if something else can be done.  How can we approach this issue in a new way without falling back upon models of confinement and incarceration? How can we apply our investments and human resources towards a visionary strategy that addresses the roots of the problem and centers dignity and the best interests of the child, family and community.”

  •  Rev. Deborah Lee, Executive Director, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

[View Google Docs version of the press release here]