Devon residents fuming over facility plans to house undocumented migrant children

Andrew Kramer
September 22, 2019 - 7:00 am

Andrew Kramer/KYW Newsradio

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DEVON, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Some people who live in a Chester County community are angry after learning the Devereux facility on Highland Avenue in Devon will become a shelter that will house undocumented migrant children. 

During this month's Easttown Township Board of Supervisors meeting, the board had a tough time calming down the residents who showed up to say they aren't happy.

"Originally we all thought that was going to be a 14 home community going up, from what Devereux said," explained Young Hyon, who lives close to the Devereux facility. "That's not the case and they're going to put a detention center in there for children."

Devereux representatives say this isn't a detention center. They're calling it a place where children separated from their parents can stay short-term and that it will "provide a transitional environment for the children."

But Hyon and other neighbors didn't seem to be buying into that.

"If the children aren't allowed to leave, what is it then?" he asked. "And they're being detained there. To me it's a detention center, they're just trying to sugar coat it. We're just protesting the fact they've been sneaky, hiding it."

"We're not upset with the premise of trying to help orphaned immigrants," added neighbor Bob Mclaine, who lives right across the street from Devereux. "And we would love to find a way to help them if we could, but this is federal program on a track that has its own ends and its own means of intention. Since we never were privy to how that process was established with Devereux and placed into our immediate community, we don't know what to think other than we don't trust the condition and the situation."

Neighbors say that another major concern is the fact that children who previously stayed at Devereux would often run away and hide out in the community, sometimes within residents' properties. The fear is that the pattern will continue, especially since Devereux says there will be one adult responsible for every eight children.

"If you're detained and you see daylight, eight kids against one person, how are they going to be able to detain eight children if there's only one adult," wondered Hyon. "You can't detain them, so it looks like we're going to have a problem more with kids running away."

"That really is disconcerting, and it brings a lot of anxiety to us," added Mclaine.

Residents said they initially expressed those concerns to the board members, but board members said they were not aware of any of this until it was brought to their attention during the meeting.

Leah Yaw, a representative with Devereux was in attendance. She stood up during the meeting and answered questions from the community directly. The board had to control the crowd as they vented their frustrations toward Yaw. 

After the meeting, Yaw spoke with KYW Newsradio. She outlined some of the details for the new facility.

It will house children ages 5-12. They can house as many as 42 children, but don't plan to have that many inside at one time. They received a $14-million grant from the Department of Health and Humans Services to make this happen. Devereux gets reimbursed for those expenses and will not be making any profit from the facility.

When Yaw was asked by KYW if she understood where the anger of the residents was coming from, she responded that she couldn't speculate on that. 

"I can't speculate what their own feeling or own concerns are," she responded. "They want more information, we will absolutely meet with them, any time, any place, individually or collectively to share that information. And hopefully we'll come to a positive resolution so we can get to the important work of helping children."

Devereux officials plan to hold a future public meeting with neighbors, according to Yaw. At the time there is no firm date when the children will arrive and Yaw said they plan to keep it that way until everyone is on the same page.

Residents say they plan to file an appeal to the zoning board in hopes of stopping this new facility from opening. That would be followed by a hearing.