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Petition Opposing Proposed Immigrant Detention Center On Troost Tops 4,800 Signatures

Sam Zeff
The now-abandoned site of the old Kindred Hospital near 87th and Troost could be redeveloped into a center to house migrant youth.

Opposition is growing to the proposed redevelopment of an old hospital in south Kansas City that could be made into a detention center to house immigrant children.

As of Thursday, opponents had gathered more than 4,800 signatures in an online petition opposing the development plan. It will be presented to members of the City Plan Commission at the March 17 meeting.

The proposed facility would be located at 87th and Troost on the site of the old Kindred Hospital. It would be developed by a Kansas City-based company linked with VisionQuest, an Arizona-based for-profit company that has pulled in millions of dollars in government contracts in recent years building detention facilities for unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“They keep getting kicked out of various cities around the country because of their questionable practices and how they care for the children," said Trinidad Raj Molina, an organizer with Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, or AIRR, which is helping lead the push to oppose the plan in Kansas City. 

The redevelopment proposal is set to come before the City Plan Commission on March 17. 

VisionQuest is working with a local developer, BID Group, which has filed a special use permit to convert the vacant Kindred complex into a place "for college/university, school, group living, religious assembling," according to a City Plan Commission docket from last month. 

The commission tabled discussion of the plan at that meeting. 

In a letter filed with the commisison, BID CEO Daniel Brandt said it would allow "group living at the facility to house kids that are awaiting placement with foster or other family members." 

Brandt also wrote that BID is willing to "invest 7 figures into improving the property and getting a good quality tenant into the property." 

But opponents see a different motivation. Kansas City community activist and Congressional candidate Maite Salazar said because VisionQuest is a for-profit company, she's concerned there will be a demand to fill beds in a new center. She said that could create a disproportionate effect on minority communities

"When we see for-profit prison systems and detention systems, we see a disproportionate effect on our marginalzied communities and on our black and brown juveniles," she said. 

"This is one issue where the city is probably going to do the right thing so we don't want people to overly stress about this issue yet," said Molina, the AIRR organizer.

VisionQuest has been the subject of several investigations of allegations of  violence and abuse against children. The city of Philadelphia shut down a VisionQuest group home in 2017, after state inspectors documented incidents of staff physically and emotionally abusing kids in it's care.

Vision Quest hasn't commented publicly on the Kansas City proposal. Officials with BID Group also have not commented. 

Even with mounting opposition, some legal expert say it could still win approval.

Immigration attorney Genevra Alberti has spoken with city planning officials. She said the commission can't deny a special use permit or zoning request simply because citizens don't like it.

Alberti said because VisionQuest has not made a rezoning request for the property, it's likely the issue will not go to the full City Council.

"What I'm looking at now perhaps there's a way to fight them from getting the license from the state because the state that they need to operate the facility,” she said.

Alberti said she plans to attend the March 17 public hearing. She said on two previous occasions, representatives of VisionQuest did not appear for hearings.

Bill Grady reports for KCUR. 

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