By: Madalyn Amato and Julia Terbeche
About 100 demonstrators gathered Tuesday in front of Long Beach City Hall to protest the Long Beach Convention Center becoming a migrant facility for 1,000 unaccompanied children.
The Long Beach Post reported on April 5 that the Long Beach Convention Center “could house up to 1,000 migrant children over the four months as the number of unaccompanied minors has increased at the Mexico border.”
Gaby Hernandez, of the Long Beach Immigration Rights Council, listed out the organization’s demands of the city and the federal government, including increased transparency in the execution of creating the center and for there to not be a presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or increased police in the city.
“We demand that this facility, if it is to be open, to be temporary and closed within 90 days, these type of facilities are a Band-Aid solution to a bigger problem,” Hernandez said.
Romeo Hebron, executive director of the Filipino Migrant Center, criticized the city’s proposed plans. Language from the city has called the location a “shelter.”
“We could call it a shelter,” Hebron said. “You can dress it up with all the nice bells and whistles that you want, but it’s a detention center. It’s kids who are going to be in cages in inhumane conditions.”
Rev. Jane Gould, a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church echoed Hebron’s sentiments. Gould called on city officials to ensure that “if we as a sanctuary city are going to open our doors as a temporary place to house unaccompanied migrant children,” then “we have a responsibility to do it differently.”
“We need to have community people working with the children, we need to address the trauma they’re already facing,” Gould said. “We need to make sure that they get to enjoy their lives as children, we need to make sure that they have opportunities to learn, to live, to experience an abundant life, and we need to make sure that they do not become imprisoned for long periods of time, with no hope, no possibility, no abundant life. We must hold our officials accountable.”
Data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows that agents have encountered nearly 3,500 migrants a day during February 2021. Of those crossing, Among them, the number of children and families seeking asylum has almost doubled. The total number of unaccompanied minors also rose 60% in January.
Jen, deputy secretary general of the Philippine U.S. Solidarity Organization of Southern California, spoke on behalf of the organization and stood in support of the calls for change.
“We stand in solidarity with the call of the organizations you see here today to stop the further detainment and criminalization of refugee and migrant families and children,” she said. “If history has anything to go by, this is nothing new.”
Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted on April 5 his support for the decision to convert the center, saying his “goal is to ensure that these children are safe, healthy and well cared for.”
Sheila Bates, of Black Lives Matter Long Beach, criticized Garcia’s slow response to the news of a center being established in Long Beach.
“There is no role model for inhumanity,” Bates said.
Organizers have gathered outside Long Beach City Hall to make demands of the government over its plan to house migrant children. pic.twitter.com/QRez6VXTBX
— Daily 49er 📰🦈 (@daily49er) April 7, 2021
A demonstrator who identified himself as David McDonald showcased his disapproval of the proposal b with his group by showcasing signs that read “Abolish ICE” and “Care not cages.”
“Dressing this up as something that it’s not is absolutely abhorrent, and everything that’s been used up till now to cage children is just unconscionable,” he said.
Each speech given by demonstrators was translated by Abigail Villapudua, a member of New Voice Interpreting.
The group closed out the rally by participating in a chant, shouting “Abolish ICE” several times, and Bates asked demonstrators to participate in an assata, a common ritual used to close BLM events.
Bates maintained that this is an issue of classism and racism, and that activists must rally together to stand up for each other.
“You can’t speak about one without speaking about the other,” she said. “We have to continue to grow the movement.”
Andrea Ramos contributed to this story.