Advocacy groups march to protest City’s approval of migrant detention center at Long Beach Convention Center

Multiple immigrant advocacy groups and around 80 protesters met at the Long Beach Convention Center on Saturday, April 10 to protest the recent approval by the Long Beach City Council to host undocumented minors detained at the southern border.

The rally started around 9 a.m. with speakers, followed by a march through the downtown area of Long Beach. During the march they blocked intersections to chant at drivers, usually receiving honks in support. 

Last Tuesday, the City announced that the Long Beach Convention Center will be used to house 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children on a rolling basis. Children will remain at the facility while federal officials confirm their relationships with family members or designated hosts in the United States. 

Protesters blocked the intersection of Shoreline Drive and Pine during a Saturday, April 10 protest against the City of Long Beach’s decision to house undocumented migrant youth. (Richard Grant | Signal Tribune)

Activists from the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition and other allied organizations say that the current time the children are forced to wait in federal custody while these relationships are verified is unacceptable, and that the federal government must work to quickly unite children with their loved ones.

“We cannot support the expansion of detention facilities, incarceration of children and the continued criminalization of immigrants,” said James Suazo, executive director of Long Beach forward, at last Tuesday’s city council meeting. “We must remember that this unfortunate situation is the result of our federal leaders failing to address the root causes of children arriving unaccompanied.”

Although community groups and nonprofits are being invited to help provide services and resources to the children, the facility will be operated by the federal government, which has a long history of tolerating the abuse and mistreatment of children in detention.

According to an article by the New York Times, from October 2014 to July 2018, 4,556 reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment against children occurring within federally funded detention facilities were made to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

The victims in the reported instances were children who entered the country as unaccompanied minors or who had been forcibly taken from their parents under the Trump-era family separation policy.

Protesters stand in a circle at the intersection of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard near the end of the march on Saturday, April 10. (Richard Grant | Signal Tribune)

A speaker at the protest, who identified themselves as Jojo, was detained as a child and then separated from their mother after they were captured while attempting to cross the border.

Jojo recalled the abusive treatment of government staff while they were detained.

“Nothing but laughter, people pointing at us, people coming around us and just kind of shaking up the cage. Nothing but that. Nothing but degrading behavior toward us,” Jojo told the crowd.

Jojo was eventually zip tied, as a 3-year-old, by an officer who forcibly took them from their mother, who attempted to fight for them.

“They ripped apart the only person that I had that felt like home,” they said.

Jojo was taken to a home, unable as a toddler to understand what had just happened and if they’d ever see their mom again. They explained that just like the children that will be kept in the Long Beach Convention Center, they didn’t comprehend that their separation from their family would be temporary or how and when they’d be able to leave.

“All they feel is the hurt, the pain, the trauma,” Jojo said.

Migrant children could begin to arrive at the Long Beach Convention Center as early as this week.

Additional reporting and photos by Richard Grant.

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