Proposed shelter for unaccompanied migrant children sparks debate

ESCONDIDO — The Escondido Planning Commission denied a proposal June 24 by Southwest Key to turn a vacant nursing home, located on Avenida del Diablo, into a shelter with 96 beds for unaccompanied children who illegally crossed the border.

The San Diego branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an appeal August 1.

The issue has gained national attention and sparked debate in the community.

On June 24, the commission unanimously denied the request by Southwest Key, which would have ran the facility for the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Commissioner Gregory Johns denied the facility because he said the purpose of the shelter would be to correct the children’s legal status, and the zoning doesn’t allow for correctional institutions.

Other commissioners denied the shelter because they felt the vacant senior home was too small for children, or because they felt it would negatively affect the neighbors through increased activity, more noise and possible safety issues.

Dave Ferguson from Southwest Key told the commission at the June 24 meeting that their role was to reunite the unaccompanied children with their families. He said in 90 percent of cases, children are reunited with their families within 30 days.

Ismael Avilez from Southwest Key told the commission that since the children wouldn’t have any visitors, there would be no increase in traffic.

Hundreds of Escondido residents attended the meeting mostly to voice their dissent.

The ACLU has appealed the commission’s decision.

“We are appealing its ill-informed decision because when you do consider the specifics, the impact of the proposed facility would be virtually indistinguishable from that of the nursing home which operated on the same site for more than 30 years,” said David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

Mayor Sam Abed went on Fox News to talk about the ACLU’s appeal.

“The ACLU has no business interfering with a land use decision. It is our government that needs to make that determination,” Abed told Niel Cavuto on Aug. 7.

“I’m a proud immigrant coming to this country for the values, for the liberty, for the freedom,” said Abed, “I see myself fighting the ACLU because they are trying to attack these values that America stands for.”

The Escondido Planning Commission typically schedules appeals within 30 days of filing.



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