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Federal government could use Moffett Field to house unaccompanied minors, sparking protests

Immigrant advocates demonstrate in Mountain View

Shreyan Sen holds up a fist while protesting with dozens of others against the potential use of children's detention centers at Moffett, outside of NASA Ames in Mountain View on March 15, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Protesters rally against the potential use of children's detention centers at Moffett. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Federal officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may use Moffett Field as a temporary shelter for a surge of unaccompanied minors traveling into the U.S., a move that immigrant advocacy groups blast as inhumane treatment of families and children.

The agency notified NASA Ames on Wednesday, March 10, that it would assess the facilities at the 1,940-acre federal property for possible use as a so-called "influx" facility, which would be used to house unaccompanied children referred from the Department of Homeland Security. Federal officials confirmed that they toured the property for future use as an immigrant holding center last week.

The search for places to house immigrant children comes amid a two-fold increase in children and families arriving at the border between January and February -- the highest it's been since October 2019. Children crossing by themselves increased by 60%, prompting HHS officials to find a place to house them.

"Additional capacity is critical in order to continue to provide a safe place for children to be released from border patrol stations," HHS representatives said in a statement. The agency must aggressively address both the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing numbers of unaccompanied children who are referred to it from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, they said.

Advocates from the group Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) swiftly condemned the idea, calling it an attempt to hold immigrants en masse in detention centers that have a sordid history of mistreating children. Dozens gathered outside of NASA Ames on Monday to rally against any use of children's detention centers, at Moffett or elsewhere.

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"No matter if we have a Democratic or Republican president, our brothers and sisters, including small children, remain shackled in detention centers," SIREN announced over Facebook. "Children must be reunited with their families and not be locked up in cages."

Priya Murthy, policy and advocacy director for SIREN, said the group is hopeful that the new administration under President Joe Biden will hold its promise in making sure immigrants arriving at the border are treated in a humane manner. But she said the recent action by HHS is "very concerning," and that these influx centers act as custodial, detention-like facilities that often place children who have been separated from their families.

Brenda Zendejas holds up her fist while protesting with dozens of others against the potential use of children's detention centers at Moffett, outside of NASA Ames on March 15. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"We are continuing to hear of child separation," Murthy said. "It may look different than it used to before, but at the same time there is still a concern that individuals are connected with their family when they arrive here."

SIREN is not aware of any other facilities being contemplated in the Bay Area outside of the Moffett site, Murthy said, but facilities elsewhere in the country have a poor track record. Claims have been made that children housed in a facility in Homestead, Florida, were sexually abused, she said by way of example.

"With that kind of track record ... we are extremely wary of the fact that federal agencies may have limited understanding of how to take care of vulnerable populations including children," she said.

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Officials at NASA Ames said HHS is interested specifically in the 256 acres of Moffett Field that make up the NASA Research Park, which primarily includes former military facilities used to house commercial and academic tenants -- including NASA student interns. HHS is seeking dorm-style buildings that can be repurposed for housing unaccompanied minors, and said in its statement that NASA's missions would not be impacted.

The safety of those facilities have been called into question. Lenny Siegel, executive director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, sent a letter to NASA officials Wednesday warning that the dorm-style buildings appear to reside within a Superfund site. The area contains the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman (MEW) toxic plume, where high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) have been documented. The chemical is a known carcinogen.

Siegel wrote that he believes HHs is interested in NASA Lodge buildings that have been last sampled for toxic concentrations of TCE in July 2011. Not only is the data close to a decade old, but summer weather readings can understate TCE concentrations, he said.

"Since the housing proposal is already a sensitive issue, nationally, we believe it is imperative that NASA conduct new indoor air sampling, as well as mitigation if necessary, to ensure that building occupants will not be exposed to unacceptably high levels of TCE vapors," Siegel wrote.

HHS said it would decide "soon" about the feasibility of the NASA site, and that it will keep local and congressional leaders informed during the assessment. If picked, the shelter would be used avoid having to keep children at border patrol stations for more than 72 hours.

Dozens of protesters rally against the potential use of children's detention centers at Moffett, outside of NASA Ames on March 15. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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Federal government could use Moffett Field to house unaccompanied minors, sparking protests

Immigrant advocates demonstrate in Mountain View

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Mar 15, 2021, 9:11 pm

Federal officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may use Moffett Field as a temporary shelter for a surge of unaccompanied minors traveling into the U.S., a move that immigrant advocacy groups blast as inhumane treatment of families and children.

The agency notified NASA Ames on Wednesday, March 10, that it would assess the facilities at the 1,940-acre federal property for possible use as a so-called "influx" facility, which would be used to house unaccompanied children referred from the Department of Homeland Security. Federal officials confirmed that they toured the property for future use as an immigrant holding center last week.

The search for places to house immigrant children comes amid a two-fold increase in children and families arriving at the border between January and February -- the highest it's been since October 2019. Children crossing by themselves increased by 60%, prompting HHS officials to find a place to house them.

"Additional capacity is critical in order to continue to provide a safe place for children to be released from border patrol stations," HHS representatives said in a statement. The agency must aggressively address both the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing numbers of unaccompanied children who are referred to it from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, they said.

Advocates from the group Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) swiftly condemned the idea, calling it an attempt to hold immigrants en masse in detention centers that have a sordid history of mistreating children. Dozens gathered outside of NASA Ames on Monday to rally against any use of children's detention centers, at Moffett or elsewhere.

"No matter if we have a Democratic or Republican president, our brothers and sisters, including small children, remain shackled in detention centers," SIREN announced over Facebook. "Children must be reunited with their families and not be locked up in cages."

Priya Murthy, policy and advocacy director for SIREN, said the group is hopeful that the new administration under President Joe Biden will hold its promise in making sure immigrants arriving at the border are treated in a humane manner. But she said the recent action by HHS is "very concerning," and that these influx centers act as custodial, detention-like facilities that often place children who have been separated from their families.

"We are continuing to hear of child separation," Murthy said. "It may look different than it used to before, but at the same time there is still a concern that individuals are connected with their family when they arrive here."

SIREN is not aware of any other facilities being contemplated in the Bay Area outside of the Moffett site, Murthy said, but facilities elsewhere in the country have a poor track record. Claims have been made that children housed in a facility in Homestead, Florida, were sexually abused, she said by way of example.

"With that kind of track record ... we are extremely wary of the fact that federal agencies may have limited understanding of how to take care of vulnerable populations including children," she said.

Officials at NASA Ames said HHS is interested specifically in the 256 acres of Moffett Field that make up the NASA Research Park, which primarily includes former military facilities used to house commercial and academic tenants -- including NASA student interns. HHS is seeking dorm-style buildings that can be repurposed for housing unaccompanied minors, and said in its statement that NASA's missions would not be impacted.

The safety of those facilities have been called into question. Lenny Siegel, executive director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, sent a letter to NASA officials Wednesday warning that the dorm-style buildings appear to reside within a Superfund site. The area contains the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman (MEW) toxic plume, where high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) have been documented. The chemical is a known carcinogen.

Siegel wrote that he believes HHs is interested in NASA Lodge buildings that have been last sampled for toxic concentrations of TCE in July 2011. Not only is the data close to a decade old, but summer weather readings can understate TCE concentrations, he said.

"Since the housing proposal is already a sensitive issue, nationally, we believe it is imperative that NASA conduct new indoor air sampling, as well as mitigation if necessary, to ensure that building occupants will not be exposed to unacceptably high levels of TCE vapors," Siegel wrote.

HHS said it would decide "soon" about the feasibility of the NASA site, and that it will keep local and congressional leaders informed during the assessment. If picked, the shelter would be used avoid having to keep children at border patrol stations for more than 72 hours.

Comments

Jack Cormode
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Mar 16, 2021 at 9:05 pm
Jack Cormode, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Mar 16, 2021 at 9:05 pm

The demonstration against a camp for immigrant youths may be well-intended but has not been well-thought out in its consequences.
Preventing the use of established facilities at Moffett Field will mean that more of these young people will be held this Summer in tents that are broiling hot in the Texas sun, in the care of for-profit avaricious contractors.
Better that these young people be held in a receptive environment in decent housing here in Santa Clara County.
The political consequences of ‘easy release’ are even worse in the long run. We already have too much child poverty here in this country. Should we add to it? And, if we don’t hold these youths, many more will come our way.
It has been said that we are caught between the humanitarian and the practical. Personally, I see that if we act with our hearts rather than our heads, we will ultimately make the situation worse.
And, in the end, Donald Trump will have another campaign slogan for 2024.


BDBD
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Mar 17, 2021 at 8:05 am
BDBD, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 8:05 am

Jack, I respectfully disagree. While these NASA camps may be marginally more humane than one alternative, this is no reason not to speak out. This half-measure is still unacceptably cruel, and it would linger on the conscience of good people to see it and say nothing in opposition.


esea
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2021 at 9:30 am
esea, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 9:30 am

It seems to me that we can combine our hearts and our heads in this situation. Let's look at the positive side, and consider the possibility that at Moffett Field there may be appropriate facilities to better shelter children and teens temporarily instead of at the border. So, don't eliminate the possibility out of hand. There may also be many in the surrounding communities who are willing and able to provide support in various ways to these young people.


Jack Cormode
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Mar 17, 2021 at 2:38 pm
Jack Cormode, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 2:38 pm

Reply to esea -
This is the type of thinking that we need. Trying to find a practical but humane approach to resolve the problem. We may not be able to come up with the perfect solution, but at least we will alleviate the suffering of these children while we work out a long-term answer.


AlV
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Mar 18, 2021 at 1:32 am
AlV, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 1:32 am

The areas under consideration are former Military housing and dormitories, more than adequate to house these youths comfortably and humanely. There's also plenty of room for HHS support personnel to provide medical, educational, legal and whatever other services necessary to relocate them to relatives or foster homes. I'm in full agreement with Jack.


Nora S.
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Mar 18, 2021 at 9:42 am
Nora S., Rex Manor
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 9:42 am

Good discussion here. It is also important to remember that the federal government is talking about temporarily housing minors who come across the border unaccompanied, not minors who have been forcibly separated from their parents by border officials. The alternatives to housing unaccompanied minors are not good. It would be far worse to turn them away or release them into the community without locating adult sponsors.


LisaR
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Mar 18, 2021 at 10:28 am
LisaR, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 10:28 am

The protestors have good intentions, but perhaps are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Surely dorms at Moffett Field are better than tents or barracks. They certainly aren't the same as cages, and there is no evidence of family separation. They shouldn't be permanent, but they could be a decent place for children who have arrived without their parents to stay while better places are arranged. This is a good-faith attempt to deal with a very difficult situation. Let's not automatically object unless we have a better solution.


HAB
Registered user
Willowgate
on Mar 19, 2021 at 2:15 pm
HAB, Willowgate
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2021 at 2:15 pm

Safety of the site is also at issue. It's a Superfund site. Housing children who are still growing at a Superfund site is not care--it's creating more harm.

As to if children are still being separated from family, Sen. Chris Murphy was at the border today and a child told him she was separated from her grandmother. So, family separations are still happening because a child may be accompanied by an older sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Still cruel.


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