Local leaders blast Trump admin plan to open permanent children’s detention facility in Virginia

Linda Alonso, 8, paints a sign during a protest rally and vigil in support of the liberation and reunification of migrant children outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, in Homestead, Florida, on July 12, 2019. (Photo by GASTON DE CARDENAS / AFP) (Photo credit should read GASTON DE CARDENAS/AFP/Getty Images)

A number of Virginia leaders are speaking out against the Trump administration’s reported plan to open a permanent detention facility for migrant kids in the commonwealth. “I am extremely concerned about your administration’s policy of separating children from their families when they cross the border into the U.S.,” Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova wrote, saying her county “wants no part in this heartless practice.”

The Washington Post reported last month that the Trump administration was looking at Virginia, California, and Florida as possible sites to open permanent baby jails next year. This plan has been rebuked by Florida legislators, one of whom tweeted, “we should be closing camps, not opening new ones.” In Virginia, where the administration wants to jail as many as 440 kids, leaders spoke out as well. 

“Last week, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson sent the agency a similar letter, while Phyllis J. Randall, chair of Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors, said in a WAMU radio interview that such a facility ‘is not good for children,” The Post continued. “I know that children who experience hardship or a complex trauma have better outcomes when they are placed in loving homes, hopefully, with family members,” Randall said. “Please be advised that the City of Alexandria, Virginia, has no interest in hosting such a shelter or being part of any ‘Exploratory Assessment,’” Wilson said. 

Concerns over the proposed baby jail even came from Trump loyalist Corey Stewart—yes, Corey Stewart—who said that “the federal government can’t just build wherever it wants in Prince William County,” though his worries appear to be over how officials “would deal with any potential problems with discipline or communicable diseases inside the facility,” and not necessarily over the fact that kids should not be in detention in the first place.

These permanent facilities would presumably replace so-called “temporary emergency shelters,” like the one that stretched out for months in Homestead, Florida, and has recently been emptied out. Hundreds of those jailed kids, however, were 17 and in danger of being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement on their 18th birthday. One of these young people, “Sofia,” spent over 80 days at Homestead, until she was shackled on her birthday. “It made me feel really bad because it made me feel like a criminal when I hadn’t done anything,” she said.

The first priority for the federal government should always ensure migrant children are connected with relatives already here or vetted sponsors as soon as possible, Legal Aid Justice Center legal director Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg said, but instead the administration is “investing their resources in essentially assuming that the long-term detention of kids is going to persist into the future.” 

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