Immigrant Girls Separated From Parents at U.S.-Mexico Border Living in Bay Area Shelter

Two adolescent girls separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Trump’s controversial "zero tolerance" policy are being held at a children’s shelter in Pleasant Hill in Contra Costa County.

Southwest Key Programs, which runs Casa Pleasant Hill, employees Kavita Sharma and Geraldo Rivera said in an email to Pleasant Hill spokesman Martin Nelis that it is not a detention center, instead a licensed shelter for children who is “working diligently” to reunite the two girls with their parents.

The shelter currently holds 25 minors ranging in ages from 12 to 17 years old, all whom stay for an average of 47 days with the goal of being reunited with a parent or a sponsor, Sharma and Rivera said.

"We and the children are fine and performing the usual daily routines we have for the children: education, recreation, with the exception of offsite outings," Sharma and Rivera said in the email.

Adding that recreational off-site activities have been suspended for safety concerns given the "current political climate" and the children are only taken offsite for medical needs.

Licensed by the state of California, they are subject to independent inspection from the state and workers say the inspector was “pleased with how well taken care of the children appear and how engaged the staff are with the children, Sharma and Rivera said.

"We're a childcare center," Southwest Key Programs spokesman Jeff Eller said. "The only difference is we're licensed to operate 24 hours a day."

The children there are doing fine, according to staff, and going through most of the same daily routines as other children in the facility's care.

"We normally take kids to parks, ice cream, things like that," Eller said. "Due to the fact that there are people who disagree with this and have been pretty vocal about it, for the safety and security of the kids we're not doing that right now."

Southwest Key Programs issued a statement on social media last week indicating that they do not support separating families at the border, but critics have pointed out that the non-profit organization does appear to be profiting from the contracts that policy has generated.

Eller referred additional questions to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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