By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Overlooking the cars just outside the nation’s capital from above Route 617 in Springfield, Virginians plan to protest on Friday over the federal government’s handling of the border crisis.
It is one of many protests planned this weekend by people upset over the border surge.
But just four miles from the protest site, the small, 70-bed Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Home in Alexandria is home to undocumented children while they await their deportation cases to be heard.
“They have to live somewhere until their case is determined,” Craig Fifer, director of communications and public relations for the city of Alexandria, told Watchdog.org.
The center, which houses U.S. juveniles from Alexandria, Falls Church and Arlington under court orders, more recently has been set up to house unaccompanied minors who come across the border, too. Still, the facility has housed undocumented children since before the border crisis started making headlines this summer.
“I guess I also should make it very clear that this has nothing to do with the current situation at the border,” Fifer said. “This is a program that existed before, and a grant we had already started working with.”
The federal government helps offset the ordinary juvenile detention facility upkeep costs to localities like the city of Alexandria by providing funds to house undocumented children.
“The program is actually a benefit to the region, given that we have to have a juvenile detention center anyways,” Fifer said.
Krystal Kimrey, executive director of the detention home, told Watchdog.org in a telephone interview that she isn’t authorized by the detention center’s board of directors to make any comments, or even confirm whether the center has taken in any new minors during the past few months.
“While we will not comment at this time, we will furnish whatever materials we are required to furnish under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act,” Kimrey said in an email. “Our attorney is reviving the email you sent to us, and we will respond in the time required by Virginia law.”
Not all undocumented children who enter the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center are sent home, Fifer said.
Some, Fifter said, come to the U.S. after fleeing violence or abuse.
“It’s not like every one of these kids is going to be deported, because some of them fall under refugee and asylum circumstances,” he said.
On Thursday, Watchdog.org called the Administration of Children and Families, part of Health and Human Services, to get more details on the use of the facility.
But earlier in the week when Watchdog.org contacted ACF, Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of ACF’s Office of Public Affairs, said they “do not identify regular/permanent Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelters for the safety and security of minors and staff at the facilities.”
Bristow-based Youth for Tomorrow is also hosting unaccompanied minors found at the border.
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached on Twitter @kathrynw5.