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Federal Program For Troubled Immigrant Teenagers To Continue In Yolo County

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio / File

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio / File

Yolo County supervisors voted on Tuesday to continue a unique federal program to incarcerate and treat undocumented minors.

Twenty-one undocumented immigrant teenagers will remain in the county’s juvenile hall facility under a federal Office of Refugee Resettlement's program for unaccompanied children.

All but two of the teenagers came to the United States by themselves, and all are younger than 17 and have been convicted of a crime or have been identified as a danger to themselves or others, according to the Julie Burns with ORR.

The county says the teenagers were not separated from their families under a recent Trump order.

Brent Cardall, the chief probation officer with Yolo County, says he was ready two months ago to walk away from the decade-old program because it was underfunded, understaffed and employees were routinely under attack.

But back in April, the county negotiated a deal with the feds to temporarily reduce the number of teenagers in the program from 24 to 17.

Now, the county has received a grant from the federal government for an additional $2 million this year, which doubles the previous budget, and nearly $6 million for next year. The money will pay for nine new staff and allow the population to increase to 24.

The Yolo County Juvenile Detention Center is only one of three sites nationwide that holds these undocumented youth.

More than half of the teenagers in the local facility are attempting to reunify with family, who are already in the United States, or find sponsors. Six are considering legal options to stay in the country, and two are returning to their native countries. One has agreed to go into foster care. The average stay for the teens is between 40 and 50 days.

The county says it has been unable to contact the families of five of the teenagers.

Public opinion of the program was split at the board meeting on Tuesday. Community members opposed the idea of incarcerating immigrant teenagers and many spoke against President Trump.

John Castlefranco asked if the immigrants would be better off somewhere besides Yolo County — and then answered his own question. "Given the Trump’s administration’s willingness to use abandoned Walmarts, military bases, tent cities to house immigrants and refugees, I feel that it wouldn't be,” he said.

Pastor Mary Westfall was one of several who opposed any incarceration of immigrant teenagers. "Immigrant and refugee minors deserve better than detention, even if there are games and art classes, no offense to lovely wonderful volunteers," she said.

The contract with Yolo County expires next June.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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