As part of my responsibilities as co-director of Detention Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I have become aware of conditions similar to those reported in "Many Refugee Kids Face Tough Times in INS Detention" (Jan. 3).
More than 200 children detained annually by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in L.A. County juvenile halls suffer from a lack of access to adequate medical care, scarce outdoor recreation and minimal contact with family members and even, at times, are physically abused. These Armenian, Central American, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and other immigrant children risk perilous journeys to flee abuse, persecution and difficult survival conditions. They seek asylum, refuge or reunification with family members. Like other children incarcerated by the INS, they report feelings of despair, isolation and even suicide.
There is a more humane alternative: housing these vulnerable children in a shelter/group home. Los Angeles is one of the few major port cities that has no such shelter, despite the court settlement of Flores vs. Reno, which stipulates that minors in INS custody are to be housed in the "least restrictive setting."
Agencies, including Catholic ones, responded to an INS proposal for shelter care in May 2001. To date, the contract has yet to be awarded. We must urge officials to open such a home.