PLEASANT HILL (CBS SF) — There are roughly two dozen children being held at a shelter for immigrant youth in Pleasant Hill, and two of them are adolescent girls who were separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.
Southwest Key Programs employees Kavita Sharma and Geraldo Rivera said the children both arrived within the last month and shelter staff are “working diligently to reunify (them) with their parents,” according to an email to Pleasant Hill spokesman Martin Nelis that was sent by communications director Cynthia Casares on Monday afternoon.
A Southwest Key Programs facility known as Casa Padre housed inside a former Walmart store in Brownsville, Texas, became a focal point in the national controversy over immigration officials separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.
Southwest Key Programs spokesman Jeff Eller pointed out Tuesday that the organization’s Pleasant Hill facility is not a jail or a detention center, however.
“We’re a childcare center,” Eller said. “The only difference is we’re licensed to operate 24 hours a day.”
Area resident Laurie Grossman and her neighbor Lora Murnett visited the Pleasant Hill facility Tuesday to donate animal puppets and books for the teens, hoping to help them cope and support the staff taking care of them.
“It’s vital to show them that there are people out here who support them, whose hearts are breaking for them,” said Murnett.
The children there are doing fine, according to staff, and going through most of the same daily routines as other children in the facility’s care — except for offsite outings.
“Right now at that particular place, due to the security concerns we have outside the building, we’ve had to curtail field trips,” Eller said.
“We normally take kids to parks, ice cream, things like that,” Eller said. “Due to the fact that there are people who disagree with this and have been pretty vocal about it, for the safety and security of the kids we’re not doing that right now.”
Congressman Mark DeSaulnier said the facility is properly licensed and doesn’t know of any violations, but he still plans to visit when he’s back from Washington.
“We will find out and make sure they are well cared for,” said DeSaulnier. “The city of Pleasant Hill is aware of it, the police are aware of it. Lets make sure they are given the privacy they deserve and not traumatize these kids further.”
The kids are between the ages of 12 and 17.
Neighbor Richard Keller and his wife know the facility well and the kids cared for there, who they say are mostly foreign. While Keller doesn’t agree with separating families either, he did say they at least seem to be in good hands.
“We have met the kids when they come down to the park and they seem pleasant,” said Keller.
Children are only going offsite for medical needs and appointments at this time, according to Southwest Keys Programs staff.
Southwest Key Programs issued a statement on social media last week indicating that they do not support separating families at the border, but critics have pointed out that the non-profit organization does appear to be profiting from the contracts that policy has generated.
Eller referred additional questions to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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