Suddenly Naval Base Ventura County has a new mission.
About 575 undocumented young people, mainly from Central America, are being housed at the base, where a private contractor is overseeing a range of services that includes classroom instruction and leisure-time activity.
Although Southern Key, the organization hired to run the facility, has a contract for just 120 days, there’s not much doubt in our mind the housing arrangement will last much longer. The kids will remain at the camp on a temporary basis until a relative can be identified to take permanent custody or until they are either granted refugee status or deported.
At a media conference call with key California legislators on July 8, State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, said she was proud of an outpouring of support for children who, in some cases, have lost both parents to the drug-related gang killings that have decimated many Central American families. She said taking in the children represented “America at its best.”
“The overall conditions for the children are very good at this time,” Assemblymember Jeff Gorell, a Republican from Camarillo, said in a statement after a tour of the facility.
We’re proud that Naval Base Ventura County has stepped up to welcome this unexpected group of guests and it does speak to the humane and caring culture we’ve nurtured on the Central Coast. We’re especially proud of the number of nonprofits that have offered to help feed, clothe and educate the children.
But it’s also true that with the House of Representatives and the White House at odds over comprehensive immigration reform, this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
We doubt, for example, that the facility, which already has been open for a month, will close down this fall.
Immigration is a huge hot-button issue in an election year and it would be highly unfortunate if Naval Base Ventura County, which is doing an admirable job of providing food and shelter for these young migrants, were to become a political punching bag. But in reality, housing undocumented children can not be a long-term mission for the naval base, which has national-defense priorities to focus on.
Instead, Congress should realize that in this case, inaction is the real enemy. Our lawmakers must work out some compromises on immigration reform and border security.