About 200 people rallied Tuesday in support of migrant children temporarily housed at a shelter at the Naval Base Ventura County.
The rally came as state legislators toured the facility where 568 minors were being housed. The federal government has contracted with the Southern California base to have the children housed for 120 days. Most of the children who have been through the base have been reunited with family members already in the United States. The rest have been sent back to their home countries.
"We weren't even aware that the facility was even here," said state Senator Kevin DeLeon, D-Los Angeles. "It serves no one to have a child in a detention center no more than two weeks. Quite frankly, it's un-American."
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A group of counter-demonstrators set up outside the gates to the base, angry that the children, mostly from Central America, are being housed there and are not being immediately sent home.
"There is a legal means to get here and they ought to be following that, just like everybody else," said Robert Miller, a Ventura County resident.
Jessica Flanagan came out to support the children.
"This is a humanitarian issue," she said. "It's not about politics.
"I live here. This is my home and I want to make sure that anybody that's here as a guest is going to be treated with respect."
The inspection comes amid what President Barack Obama called a "humanitarian crisis" that has brought an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors from Central America to the United States.
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"The recent surge of unaccompanied minors is an issue that goes beyond the debate of our nation's flawed immigration system," said California Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, in a press release ahead of Tuesday's tour. "This is a question of whether or not we ought to take proper care of helpless children with no one to turn to."
Since October 2012, Federal authorities have apprehended 52,000 unaccompanied minors, most of which have arrived from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Previously, most of these unaccompanied minors were over 14 years of age. But recently, officials have been seeing an increase in the apprehension of minors under 13.
- Border Crisis: Dispatches From Mexico, Guatemala
Last month, Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a government-wide response to the situation.
Among the administration's top priorities is ensuring that these children are housed, fed, and receive any necessary medical treatment.
"Many of these detained children have lost everything-their homes, their friends, and their families," Alejo said. "At the very least, these displaced youths deserve livable conditions at the facilities in which they are being detained."