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Immigration Advocates Battle Proposed Shelter on Troost

City Plan Commission to Hear Testimony March 17

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Above image credit: In this Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, photo shows chain-link fence and razor wire surrounding the exercise fields at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, Calif. The facility is a privately operated immigration detention center run by the GEO Group. (AP Photo | Chris Carlson)

Kansas City immigrant rights advocates are opposing a proposal to open a center for undocumented minors in a vacant hospital building.

Developer BID Group has submitted a plan to reuse the old Kindred Hospital building at 8701 Troost Ave. “for college/university, school, group living, religious assembling.” Applicant Daniel Brandt did not return a call for comment. The facility, operated by a for-profit company called VisionQuest, would house immigrant boys 11-17 years old. 

Two groups, Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR) and Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MOR2), are leading the opposition effort and launched a petition against the proposal. 

“Any potential detention center would be a stain on the moral fabric of our community (Cualquier centro de detención potencial sería catastrófico para nuestra comunidad),” the petition reads. 

The petition has garnered 2,652 signatures as of Monday, just 500 signatures shy of the goal. AIRR and MOR2 met Monday to map out their notes and plan what to say during the City Plan Commission testimony on March 17 at 9 a.m.  

“We really need to plan what we need to do,” said Maite Salazar, a candidate for U.S. Congress in Missouri’s Fifth District.

Opponents note that in 1994 the Department of Justice investigated VisionQuest’s facilities in Pennsylvania and concluded that they saw clear “evidence of a serious abuse problem.”

VisionQuest president Mark Contento did not return a call for comment.

Salazar has worked with immigrants first-hand for more than a decade translating and being an advocate for an undocumented minor who sought a heart transplant. And this past year, Salazar began to rally against detention centers.

In many ways, being a congressional candidate is Salazar’s way of making sure issues like these are heard and understood. 

For example, the day after finding out that VisionQuest planned to open a center in Kansas City, Salazar went to the proposed site, which is right next to the Veterans Community Project.

“It is an old hospital that is set fairly far back from the road, (and) their driveway is private property,” Salazar said. A security guard shooed Salazar away and warned that it “better not be in the news.” 

In February, BID Group applied for a special use permit to rezone Kindred Hospital’s old facility so that it can build what the company calls “shelters for at-risk youth.”

VisionQuest earned $37 million in federal government contracts for 2019 for opening similar shelters in Texas, California and New Mexico and other “residential shelter” services. The contracts were all under the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.

This table shows VisionQuest's federal contract earnings for fiscal year 2019.
Here’s a screenshot of VisionQuest’s federal contract earnings for 2019. ACF refers to the Administration for Children and Families, which manages the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) Program. (Source: TAGGS | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

VisionQuest’s website describes the company as a “comprehensive, at-risk youth services organization” that provides residential care through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.  

This is the second attempt to open one in the area. The first was in the Waldo area, but it never materialized.

“Now they have set their sights on 87th and Troost,” Salazar said. “Child abuse has been equated with their name for some time. That’s a whole other reason they shouldn’t be able to do this.”

But there’s something else, Salazar noted. Missouri hasn’t had a for-profit detention center or prison since 2010. So if VisionQuest succeeds, it could set a modern-day precedent.

“We really want to show that we will put up a fight and we will stand against this,” Salazar said.

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