About 40 people gathered outside the VisionQuest property in the city's Logan neighborhood on Wednesday, loudly stating their opposition to the agency's plan to house 60 undocumented immigrant children there.
The "Immigrants Are Not for Sale" rally, organized by the Juntos advocacy group, drew leaders from the city teachers union, justice groups, and neighborhood organizations. All said they wanted children to be safe and cared for — and did not believe that would happen in a shelter run by the Arizona-based agency.
"VisionQuest has no place in Philadelphia," said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos. "Unaccompanied minors need support, not jail."
Efforts to contact the CEO of VisionQuest, a youth-services agency that operates in six states, were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The agency says it will provide a comfortable, dormitory-like setting for the children, who arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border. The youths would come here from other shelters across the United States.
For years, thousands of "unaccompanied minors" have approached the border as they flee violence and poverty in their homelands of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
The government has attempted to place children with family members already living in the United States, but many of the youths have no relations here.
VisionQuest plans to house the children, all boys ages 12 to 17, at its leased property in the Logan Plaza complex on Old York Road. The minors will receive legal services, counseling, and other therapies as needed, the company said, while officials seek to find adult sponsors who might serve as foster parents.
VisionQuest said it ensures that the children in its care are safe, that families are respected and communities protected. The agency is rooted in American Indian culture, it says on its website, where a traditional "vision quest" marks the transition from child to adult.
"The people of Logan," said civic association leader Charlene Samuels, "will not have it."
She and others who gathered on Wednesday said they want VisionQuest to stay away, that children need love and homes, not large shelters.
"We should be insulted that they think they can come here and make money off of kids," said Sean Damon, organizing director of the Amistad Law Project, a Philadelphia-based human-rights advocate.