Pomona’s Fairplex serves as emergency detention center for unaccompanied migrant children

By Lesly Velasco Guerra, May 5, 2021

The Fairplex, normally home to the Los Angeles County Fair, will serve as an emergency center to temporarily house unaccompanied minors who arrive at the U.S.-Mexican border.

The Fairplex, which will be the backdrop of CPP’s class of 2021 graduation ceremony, signed a contract last week with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The contract is set for 60 days but can be extended up to one year. The first 250 children began arriving May 1, according to a statement from LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis.

In early April, Solis commented in a press conference that she had been notified by the White House of the decision to create the detention center.

“I thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for recognizing that these young people need the care, sustenance, recreation, and education Los Angeles County and the Pomona Fairplex will provide,” stated Solis.

Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post

The children at the facility are to be assisted by the county’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Children and Family Services, Public Health, Health Services and Mental Health departments, according to Solis.

Local activists gathered on April 24 at Ganesha Park, less than a mile away from The Fairplex, to protest against the facility being used as a detention center. The gathering included several speakers, including an immigration attorney, a detention center survivor and local organization representatives. It concluded with a protest from Ganesha Park to Pomona City Hall.

Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post
Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post

Victor Fernandez, a member of the organization Alliance to Defend Im/migrants, explained the importance of the community gathering in light of these events. Alliance to Defend Im/migrants is a Los Angeles-based organization that was instrumental in dismantling detention centers in the City of LA. Fernandez’s goal is to do the same in Pomona.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of local organization in the community of Pomona,” said Fernandez. “I bet you most people that live within a mile away of that detention center don’t even know what’s happening.”

Fernandez, who has served as an immigrant rights activist for 15 years, believes that the first step toward change is to educate.

“The quieter this thing runs and the less that people know about it, the more likely that one, they are most likely to happen but two, that they will also start more of them,” said Fernandez.

Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post

In March 2020, former President Donald Trump, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, invoked Title 42, a public health law that prohibited the entrance of asylum seekers to the country, including adults, family units and unaccompanied minors.

In November 2020, a federal district court ruled that Title 42 could not be applied to unaccompanied minors. Unaccompanied minors, as explained by L.A. based immigration attorney, Sofia Jeannette Gillespie, is any child under the age of 18 who comes in contact with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Gillespie explained that this law puts parents in a difficult decision-making position.

“You may feel like your child’s only way of survival is sending them by themselves,” said Gillespie. “Because if you go to the border with your child, you won’t be processed in, but your child will be if they are by themselves.”

Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post
Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post
Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post
Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post

The majority of the parents decide to send their children alone to the border in hopes that they are granted asylum protection, explained Gillespie.

According to Gillespie, the law states that children should not remain in the custody of Customs and Border Protection for more than 72 hours and these facilities are being designated to accommodate the overflow. Meanwhile, the children remain in in immigration court proceedings.

Pomona Councilmember Victor Preciado explained that between 1,000 to 2,500 children ages 13 to 17 are expected to arrive at the Fairplex. Preciado assured that the city and city council did not have any input in decision making for the Fairplex to be used as a center site and it was all directed by the federal government.

“As of right now, my thoughts are to be positive about it,” said Preciado. “At first, I was in shock because coming off the Trump administration, it was very much detention centers, they are horrible places to be in. I was not going to be accepting of seeing kids on the ground in cages and that was just not going to happen. But they let me know that this was not going to be border patrol, that it wasn’t going to be Immigration and Customs Enforcement, this is the Department of Health and Human Services through local partnerships.”

Preciado, alongside federal, state and other local representatives had the opportunity to tour the facility prior to the children’s arrival.

Preciado explained that he was told Wraparound Services, in partnership with Cherokee Federal, have been prepared for the children at the Fairplex. According to Preciado, it is expected that there will be minimum six hours of daily education, mental health services provided as well as other wellness services such as the farm and soccer fields.

Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post
Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post

Preciado added that weekly Friday Zoom meetings are scheduled with local activist groups, councilmembers, members of the county and members of the Fariplex to discuss the preparation and execution of these services.

“What I have been telling those who want to be involved is to be ready because all of this is still very new and is still being set up,” Preciado added.

Preciado explained that the city is working with local artists and CPP’s mariachi to bring live music and art to create a welcoming environment. He believes the Fairplex has ample space to hold CPP’s graduation ceremony in addition to the COVID testing and vaccination site that currently occupies the Fairplex, and the unaccompanied minors that will be arriving.

While the first group of children has arrived, more are expected to arrive within the following week, up to the Fairplex capacity of 2,500 children. The Pomona Community Foundation, a local independent foundation made up of leaders from various civic institutions in Pomona, is partnering with the Fairplex to take monetary donation through the Esperanza Fund. Plans for volunteering and other donations are expected to be announced soon.

“Thank you to everyone who is reading and wanting to get involved and knowing this is a moment to step up,” said Preciado. “And at the same time, like all of us had said, we must be ready because if at any moment it’s not what we believe it is or what we hope it is, then we will be the first ones at those doors, marching to making sure these unaccompanied minors are cared for in a humane way.”

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