Amid Protests in the Valley, City Council Temporarily Bans Private Detention Centers

New council president Nury Martinez authored a motion that will stop a controversial immigrant youth facility from opening in Arleta

The Los Angeles City Council voted to approve a temporary ban on private detention centers in the city on Wednesday, in an attempt to prevent the opening of a controversial immigrant youth facility in Arleta that has drawn backlash from immigrants rights advocates. The motion, which was authored by Councilwoman Nury Martinez, will block the city from issuing permits to all privately owned detention centers for at least 45 days, while a more permanent ordinance requested in July is in the process of being drafted.

In recent weeks, plans for the Arleta facility have incited protests by immigrants rights advocates in the city, who worry it will endanger people in the mostly Latino, working class San Fernando Valley neighborhood. The 148-bed center, which would be housed in an abandoned assisted living facility, was proposed by VisionQuest, a for-profit firm that has repeatedly been accused of child abuse. It would be funded by a $25 million grant from the federal government.

Announcing the motion last Friday, Martinez, who represents Arleta and has called the facility a “prison,” cited VisionQuest’s “controversial background,” and said the company “should not be anywhere near immigrant children, many of whom are no doubt traumatized by the federal government’s inhumane treatment of them.”

“I will not stand idly by and allow for-profit companies to get rich off of the anguish and suffering of immigrant children in Arleta, or anywhere else in Los Angeles,” said Martinez.

Jeff Bender, a spokesperson for VisionQuest told the Los Angeles Times that the company is not planning to open a “detention center,” but a shelter for migrant youth that intends to reunite youth with family members or place them in foster families within 90 days. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provided VisionQuest with the grant, has previously said that it is a child welfare agency that operates “state licensed residential centers,” not detention centers.

But some local officials and immigrants’ rights groups suspect that under the current administration, there is little difference between the two. “Even though this so-called ‘shelter’ is supposed to provide licensed services, and ‘serve’ the children held there, we have seen under this administration shelters providing inhumane treatment to youth,” says Mariana Magaña Gamero, a policy advocate with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. “And more specifically, VisionQuest as a company has had a history and a trajectory of inhumane treatment in the centers they’ve housed youth in.”

Representatives for VisionQuest originally met with city officials to discuss a possible proposal for the facility last year, but an official application has yet to be submitted. Yeghig Keshishian, chief external affairs officer for the planning department, told the Los Angeles Times that the Department of Building and Safety has been asked to hold off on issuing permits until the city receives “additional clarification” about the site’s intended use.

The temporary ordinance approved on Wednesday, which will be drafted by the city attorney in the next week or two, will broadly ban “private detention centers, inclusive of facilities wherein all persons, regardless of their citizenship status, are detained, confined, or under restraint or security pending the resolution of any judicial or administrative proceedings” and “inclusive of detention facilities for separated or unaccompanied minors.”

It should be complete in the next week or two, and has the potential to be extended for up to a year, or until the more permanent ordinance is complete.

RELATED: A For-Profit Firm Accused of Child Abuse Wants to Open a Center for Migrant Youth in Los Angeles

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