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LA City Council Vote: No Private Detention Centers In City Limits

Mayra Todd speaks out in favor of the new city ordinance. She said her granddaughters were detained when they arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border from Guatemala last year. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)
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The Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday to prohibit private detention centers within city limits. The move is a response to plans by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to allow a contractor to open a shelter for migrant children in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

“In my opinion they’re prisons or jails for children,” said councilmember Nury Martinez, who authored the motion.

Before the vote, she criticized the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border by federal immigration officials.

“We know that they’ve caused misery and pain for countless others,” Martinez said. “What we should be doing, instead of separating families at the border, is reuniting them. We simply don’t want this type of detention center in our neighborhoods.”

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Among those who came to City Hall to support the motion was Myra Todd. The facility would be about 5 miles away from her home.

“My granddaughters were in those detention centers,” Todd said after speaking in support of the motion in city council chambers.

Todd said her granddaughters, who now live with her in Van Nuys, were detained for over a week in Houston when they arrived at the border from Guatemala in the spring of last year. She said the girls were fed once a day and still have nightmares about their experiences.

The motion passed unanimously and is effective immediately. Martinez wrote the motion after finding out that VisionQuest, a private contractor that provides at-risk youth programs, planned to open the center. Pro-immigrant rights groups protested the move in January.

VisionQuest did not reply to a request for comment.

The company told City News Service in a statement that the shelter would help reunite families separated at the border.

"VisionQuest is looking to establish a migrant shelter to provide clothing, food, schooling, medical care and housing for unaccompanied minors," company spokesman Jeff Bender told CNS. "Our goal is to reunite them with family members or a foster family within 90 days of arriving at the shelter to get to a point of a stable living environment.”

Martinez said she’s bracing for a lawsuit from the federal government against the city for passing the ban. She said she expects a challenge that the city can carry out such a prohibition.

There’s already a state ban on new for-profit private detention centers, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom last year.