Some 700 children have already been processed and united with relatives, according to members of the legislative group.
Children participate in a structured daily routine, both groups said, taking classes in English as a second language and other basic subjects, playing sports, and attending a series of interfaith religious services. Most of the children are religious: Carcaño recounted how all but one child stopped watching World Cup matches on television to attend religious services.
“Under the circumstances, they look like normal children,” said Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez, who heads a Baptist church in Los Angeles County. “They were playing, they were drawing, they were teasing each other.”
Local volunteers like Jessica Flanagan have been overwhelmed by donations from the local community.
“I’m quite proud of Ventura County’s caring and generous response,” said Flanagan, who helped start a Facebook group soliciting donations and support for the children at the base. In addition to donations of supplies, doctors, educators, and lawyers have reached out seeking to volunteer, she said.
While largely positive about the current conditions at the Ventura base, both groups expressed concern over the plight of children once released into the care of family members. Several noted that once federal officials place a child with a family member, it becomes the family’s responsibility to pay for any legal assistance for the children during immigration proceedings.
Many have legitimate cause for seeking asylum, said state Sen. Norma Torres (D-Chino), who toured the facility with her fellow legislators.
“It’s important for the U.S. to realize that this is a humanitarian crisis that is impacting very young children who have come here because they have seen that there is absolutely no future in their homeland,” said Torres, who hails from Guatemala. “Many of these children have come seeking refuge with family here because their parents have been murdered in their homeland.”
Without adequate legal representation, advocates say, even those cases may not be enough to ensure legal refugee status.
“We want to make sure these kids are guaranteed their rights,” said Vanessa Frank, an immigration attorney and chairwoman of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, one of the nonprofit groups actively assisting the detained children in Ventura County.
“I think it really is time for them to find counsel for these kids during removal proceedings, just the way we have it during criminal proceedings,” she said.