Latino leaders said Tuesday that Stanislaus County could get some of the 50,000-plus Central American children caught up in an immigration dispute.
And if they’re coming, the children could need help, ranging from clothing and toothbrushes to legal aid and foster families.
Nine leaders gathered in downtown Modesto to discuss the situation. It involves minors – mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – who have entered the southwestern United States without parents or papers over several months.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been arranging housing around the country and other services for the children until their immigration cases are decided. The matter has become part of the debate over U.S. border policy, with some people calling for strict enforcement and others urging special care for the children.
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People at Tuesday’s meeting said they have heard that some children have been placed in San Joaquin County, so it’s likely that others will end up in Stanislaus. They said most of the minors nationwide are going to relatives, but others could need foster parents.
“I don’t care what color a child is – if a child needs help, adults should help him,” said Peter Perez, a Bay Area graphic artist involved with Latino issues in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
The Latino Community Roundtable and Congregations Building Community, both based in Modesto, hosted the meeting at the Rancho Fresco Mexican Grill. It drew representatives of Catholic Charities, El Concilio and the Stanislaus Region Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Yamilet Valladolid, site supervisor for El Concilio, said its national organization has put out a call for attorneys to help children at immigration hearings. She also said it has mental health services that could help some of the young people.
The new committee plans to continue meeting as it gets a handle on how many children could be coming to the county. It envisions drop-off sites for donated clothing and other items, services that would help the children ease into school, and outreach to possible foster parents.
Observers have blamed poverty and violence in Central America for the flow of children across Mexico and into the United States. Homero Mejia, executive director of Congregations Building Community, said concerned people should look into “the root causes of migration to the north” in addition to helping with the children’s immediate needs.
The meeting came a day after the release of a statewide poll on the Central American issue and immigration policy in general. Nearly half of the respondents said the children should be allowed to stay while they await their hearings. About the same number favored deportation.
The poll found 73 percent support for legislation in Congress that would create a path to citizenship for people already in the country illegally, while boosting border security and verification of foreign workers. It was conducted by the Los Angeles Times and University of Southern California.