California town to Texas: How to house immigrant children

A small, heavily immigrant city outside Los Angeles wants to teach the state of Texas a thing or two about humanitarianism and taking care of…
California town to Texas: How to house immigrant children

Immigrant families and children’s advocates rally in response to President Barack Obama’s statement on the crisis of unaccompanied children and families illegally entering the United States, outside the Los Angeles Federal building.(AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

A small, heavily immigrant city outside Los Angeles wants to teach the state of Texas a thing or two about humanitarianism and taking care of unwanted Central American children who are new to the country.

SEE ALSO: Children at the border: A personal, not a political crisis

The city of Bell is preparing to house some of the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children who have come into Southern California and the Southwest in recent weeks, whose presence has created a political and social crisis in America.

“We will not turn our backs on these children,” says Bell Mayor Nestor Valencia as his city works with the Salvation Army in setting up a shelter for minors who will be going through immigration processing to determine their fate.

“As a community, we can be judged by our compassion. Let’s be on the right side of history and lend our support to the immigrant children.”

unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. CPB provided media tours Wednesday of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz., that have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool)

Valencia and other city leaders have made it a point to contrast their position with that of places such as Texas, which became the focus of the crisis last week with President Obama’s trip there and the hard-line insistence of Gov. Rick Perry and others that those children be deported as quickly as possible.

Officials in Bell hope to work with the Salvation Army to convert shipping warehouses in an industrial district of the town into a shelter that would house at least 125 immigrant children.

Bell is a working-class city of 35,000 – most of those residents immigrants – that was rocked four years ago by a public corruption scandal.

Those officials, who looted the city of more than $5 million, have been removed from office. Most have been convicted and facing prison time, but Bell continues trying to recover from the monetary loss and stain on the city’s image.

Now many in the community say they see sheltering the immigrant children as part of finding redemption for their city.

“We have to show compassion for these children who are coming here seeking a better life,” said Bell resident David Rios. “We have to find the humanitarian spirit in our hearts that God would want us to display to Him.”

The president has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the border crisis, including money to go to expanding and finding facilities to house detainees.

But Republicans have vowed to fight the measure, and it is uncertain just how the country will go about housing some 57,000 unaccompanied children, from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who have crossed the U.S. border since last fall.

Bell officials say began talking with the Salvation Army and the federal government about establishing an immigrant shelter a few weeks ago — a shelter to be supported through donations and any federal funding that is approved.

“My heart tells me this is the right thing to do,” says Valencia. “We’re not a rich community, but we are wealthy in compassion and humanitarianism.”

For Valencia, who was elected as a reformist after former council members were arrested in a public corruption case, this is also a situation that resonates in his life.

In 1969, he was barely four years old when he entered the United States illegally from Cihuatlán, Jalisco, Mexico, packed in a van filled with piñatas.

“There’s trauma crossing the border with strangers,” Valencia told reporters. “But it was my parents’ way of keeping the family together. It was an opportunity.

“It was a sense of desperation by my parents.”

Valencia has vowed to press the city council for final approval of the children’s shelter.

“There is no cost for the city,” he says. “The Bell shelter is a logical site, and they will run it through a federal grant or funding.”

Meanwhile, in heavily Latino communities throughout California, residents have been taking in donations of food and supplies to send to Bell and other locations where shelters are being set up to house the unaccompanied immigrant children.

“We certainly understand the dynamics when it comes to people wanting to better their lives,” said Coachella City Councilman Steven Hernandez. “Our city is 98 percent Latino. We have a lot of similar stories.”

SEE ALSO: Advocates say Obama should visit migrant children at the border