F. Castro / SFVS

Proposed detention center in Arleta.

A migrant detention center is planning to be opened and operated in Arleta, but not if Los Angeles Councilmember Nury Martinez and an immigrant rights organization can stop it.

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the federal government in July awarded VisionQuest $25 million in four grants over the next three years to house hundreds of unaccompanied minors in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

“For-profit operations like VisionQuest — whose so-called expertise is in youth discipline programming — working for a dishonest Federal government that actively engaged in, and then lied about, separating immigrant children from their parents, is a recipe for human disaster,” Martinez said. 

“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I am vehemently opposed to placing immigrant children in what some call holding facilities or detention centers. I call them prisons. You should not be able to profit off of the anguish of children. That has no place in Arleta or anywhere in the city of Los Angeles.”

Martinez — who represents Los Angeles District 6 and was recently elevated to council president — was not the only one who does not trust the organization.

Gloria Saucedo, director of Centro Mexico in Panorama City and who has led numerous pro-immigrant marches, said it was unfortunate “that (groups like VisionQuest) are using the taxes of the migrants themselves to open these centers.”

Saucedo also noted “no place can be better for a child than to be with his parents” and the main thing is to “leave the children with their parents and not separate them from their families.”

She said that it is dangerous for such centers to be established in the San Fernando Valley “creating mistrust and fear” in a community where there are many migrants.

VisionQuest has faced previous accusations of mistreating children under its charge at a site they operated in Philadelphia. That city terminated a contract with VisionQuest in 2017 to operate a center for minors referred there by local courts and social workers, after VisionQuest employees were accused of slapping some minors.

Before opening its youth-migrant center in Philadelphia this year, VisionQuest officials said it had replaced staff there and that the facility would be better managed.

California Sites

VisionQuest wants to operate two facilities in California, one in Hemet in Riverside County with space for 102 beds, and the other in Arleta.

The Arleta facility would occupy a vacant property at the intersection of Nordhoff Street and Woodman Avenue that was previously a nursing home. According to the description available on a leasing site, the two-story building has space for 148 beds in 74 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, as well as a large dining area and a commercial kitchen. It is surrounded by a security fence.

Before VisionQuest can open its facility here in the Valley, it must convince Martinez and the rest of the Los Angeles City Council that the site would not violate a motion passed in June that prohibits private detention centers within the city.

A recent United Nations report notes that at least 103,000 migrant children are in detention centers in the United States, the largest number in the world.

Many of them arrived in the United States alone or were separated from their families by the Trump Administration’s policy aimed at deterring to deter more undocumented migrants from coming into the US. These migrant children and adolescents are or have been placed in detention centers throughout the country.