Keep the ORR Program in Yolo County

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As I’ve learned more over the last year about some of the responsibilities that Yolo County has, one task in particular has impressed me. Yolo County is presently contracted with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to house at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland, up to 24 unaccompanied refugee youth. The criteria for secure placement at this facility is that they pose a danger to themselves or others or have been charged with committing a criminal offense. I consider this a positive and necessary activity for the county to be involved in, and it is worthy of more backing.

Recent discussions between the Board of Supervisors and the Probation Department, which runs the facility, have centered around possible termination of the program. The most recent vote on April 3, by a 3-1 margin, was to have the Probation Department engage ORR in discussions for better staffing to deal with issues involving ORR youth which would involve more federal funding or reduced bed space for the ORR program.

It’s difficult for most of us to imagine the scenario experienced by most of these kids, but here it is: you’re 14-18 years old, in a foreign country, without family, and without any support system that you may have had where you came from, and you don’t speak the local language. You have the same constitutional rights of the local population but you have to rely on them to preserve those for you. On top of it all, you may not have been charged with a crime, you may simply be considered a danger to yourself which should get you mental health treatment rather than incarceration.
The Yolo Juvenile Detention Facility is one of only two facilities in the country performing this function, the other being Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia. Given the descriptions I’ve read of the Shenandoah facility (presently under a class-action lawsuit involving, among other things, alleged abuse of detainees by staff) the youth are considerably better off here in Yolo County. Along with the better conditions here, there are over 100 volunteers from the community, largely from the Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network, who regularly visit the ORR youth that are housed there so a strong support network for this program already exists.

They’re here, they’re in our care, and we have a responsibility make every effort to continue this program. I’d like to thank our two broader Winters area Yolo County supervisors, Don Saylor, District 2 (donsaylor@yolocounty.org, 530-757-5556) and Duane Chamberlain, District 5 (duane.chamberlain@yolocounty.org, 530-666-8627) for voting in favor of engaging ORR in negotiations rather than terminating the program. Please convey your support as well.

Brian Bellamy

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