ESCONDIDO (AP) — A Southern California city has rejected a plan to convert a vacant nursing home into a shelter for unaccompanied children arrested by the Border Patrol.
The Escondido City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to deny the proposal by Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit group that operates shelters for child immigrants across the country, U-T San Diego reports.
The company was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the Escondido shelter would have the same number of residents and similar services as the nursing home that once occupied the building.
But the council majority agreed with an earlier decision by the Planning Commission that said the proposed facility would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood in the San Diego suburb for reasons including traffic, safety, parking and community character.
“You cannot compare a skilled nursing facility and a detention facility and say they are the same thing,” Mayor Sam Abed said. “Big difference.”
Councilwoman Olga Diaz, who is running against Abed to become the city’s next mayor, voted in favor of the project.
Diaz said her analysis of the land-use criteria found the shelter was appropriate for the location and that she supported the project because it would help children in need. “I may lose an election, but I will not lose my humanity,” she said.
About 85 people spoke during the hearing, some in favor of the shelter, but most strongly opposed, according to the newspaper.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children were arrested by the Border Patrol during the past year, the vast majority from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services places children in shelters until they are released to sponsors, often their parents. They remain in deportation proceedings while out of government custody.
Escondido, where the population is about half Latino, has repeatedly embroiled itself in immigration debates since 2006, when the City Council voted to require landlords to check tenants’ immigration status. A federal judge blocked the ordinance, which never took effect.