BELL — The city of Bell on the edge of Los Angeles is planning to open a temporary shelter for the Central American children who have entered the country illegally in recent months.
The Los Angeles Times reports that officials in this modest, blue-collar city began talking with the Salvation Army and federal officials about the shelter a few weeks ago.
If the plan is approved by the City Council, the Salvation Army would convert a warehouse in an industrial district of Bell to house 125 immigration detainees. Some of the space is already being used as transitional housing for homeless people.
The city’s mayor, Nestor Valencia, said he sees Bell’s effort to help the children as redemption for the years of corruption that nearly bankrupted the city. The scandal broke four years ago when it was revealed that a number of officials, most notably former City Manager Robert Rizzo, looted the city of more than $5.5 million.
Valencia also sees a little of himself in the children’s plight: He was 4 years old when he boarded a white van filled with piñatas and entered the country illegally from Mexico.
“My senses tell me this is the right thing to do,” Valencia, 49, told the Times. “We’re not a rich community, but we are wealthy in compassion and humanitarian.”
Since October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children have reached the U.S. from poor and increasing violent Central American countries. The influx of immigrants has overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol facilities in Texas, prompting the government to set up temporary shelters and fly immigrants to other states for processing.
Children are placed in shelters, then released as they await their hearings in immigration court.
The reaction to the crisis has been mixed.
Last week, hundreds of protesters blocked buses trying to move some of the immigrants into a Border Patrol station in Murrieta.
Meanwhile, the city of Coachella east of Murrieta began taking in donations of food and supplies to send to children at its City Hall and Fire Department. On Tuesday, the city filled a U-Haul truck with donations for a shelter in Imperial County, along the Mexican border.
Southern California has the largest population of Latin American immigrants in the country, and some residents feel a kinship with children.
“We certainly understand the dynamics when it comes to people wanting to better their lives,” Coachella city Councilman Steven Hernandez said. “Our city is 98 percent Latino. We have a lot of similar stories.”