A call to action regarding the proposed child detention center

Upset Poor Little Boy Refugee With Dirty Face Near Wall Fence On Border

We’ve been asking members of the KC community to submit stories about life under house arrest. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, please send it to brock@thepitchkc.com for consideration. Today, Beto Lugo-Martinez takes on the bigger issue of the child detention center that is being developed in Troost. We’ll see you all on May 19th online

Dear City Council members and City Planning Commission, 

I’m a part of a coalition of community organizers and have partnered with local pediatricians, Elizabeth Friedman MD MPH, Rupal Gupta MD, Brad Schow MD. We work for and with local community-based organizations and academic institutions, and we are all residents of the Kansas City Metro Region. We are writing this letter in opposition to the opening of a child detention center in Kansas City, MO by the private, for-profit firm, VisionQuest. We are calling on City Council members and the City Planning Commission to not allow this facility in our community. 

Ethical arguments weigh the heaviest. There, however, are plenty of evidence-based reasons against the placement of this facility in Kansas City, MO. VisionQuest currently has multiple pending federal charges for physical, mental, and sexual abuse of staff and children, and for denying due process, which is a legal right. VisionQuest has elected to side-step the law or operate as if they are not subject to the law. 

We know that separation from family, let alone long-distance migration to escape violence and war, is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. More recent research has taught us that these events can also result in actual permanent genetic and cellular changes in the brain. In other words, these changes are not just psychological but also physical. Children who come to the United States — with these significant risk factors — do not by necessity have to be placed in facilities which only serve to worsen their physical and psychological outcomes. Viable alternatives include expedited placement with sponsors with frequent welfare checks can also help to bring children to a life of normalcy rather than forced institutionalization. 

Caging children and separating them indefinitely from their families lends itself to creating hopelessness, desperation and/or poverty, and can result in a generation of defeated young adults with no experience other than mass incarceration. 

Additionally, VisionQuest has a record of medical neglect and denying basic necessities for maintaining health and sanitation. How would they manage the facility in the setting of this coronavirus pandemic? What about the annual influenza season? The world has been discussing releasing people from incarceration to prevent catastrophic health outcomes in the midst of COVID19; why are we discussing incarcerating more people, children no less? 

We urge you with profound concern. Do not allow VisionQuest to establish a detention center in our community. Every adult, every community member has a moral obligation to protect children, who are the most vulnerable among us. This is the ethical argument and a very important one. There is no place in our community for a proposed child immigrant detention center that sustains known patterns of violence and abuse against children. 

Other communities and city governments across the country are holding VisionQuest accountable for its unethical practices by refusing state licensure and turning down rezoning requests, with cities stating public disavowal of practices that serve to violate human rights of immigrants. VisionQuest continues to approach city after city intentionally using new strategies of entry, but their business remains the same. We urge our City Council members and City Planning Commission to uphold the values of Kansas City as the heart of America: Stay on the right side of history and choose community over cages. Kansas City should not be in the business of allowing undue harm to displaced children. 

We invite our community to join us in letting City Council & City Planning Commission know we disapprove of a detention center in Kansas City.

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