At a migrant detention facility for children in California, a protest of two

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At a migrant detention facility for children in California, a protest of two

In and out they go: white vans, mostly. Inside the vans are children under the age of 18 being transported to the building that will become their new home for an indeterminate amount of time — a home with no mom or dad.

In the one-story, tan-coloured building in El Cajon, Calif., about 30 kilometres east of San Diego, are up to 65 migrant children who are among the thousands that have been forced to separate from their parents under U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policies.

The government department responsible for the children released images of what lies behind the large green gate: classrooms, bedrooms, a kitchen, a courtyard in which to play soccer. It's normal-looking enough, but protester Monica Verduzco says Americans shouldn't accept this situation as "normal."

"I mean, children are being separated from their parents," Verduzco says. 

The 38-year-old mother of two is standing outside the detention centre, holding a sign that reads in bold red-and-yellow letters: "Children are being held hostage here. Not ok!!"

'Not in my backyard'

She says when she saw a recent news story about migrant children being held behind wire at a detention facility in Texas, she intended to board a plane in order to protest outside that centre. Then Tuesday morning a friend told her there was a similar facility just 75 kilometres from her house.

"That's when I said oh no no no, not in my backyard," Verduzco says. "I don't understand how people can know about everything that's going on and not speak about it, not show up and ... just turn the other cheek or change the channel."

Activists who have been inside the facility share her concern.

"A society is judged how we treat our children, and what's happening in this country today is horrific," says Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels. His charity provides migrants with everything from legal services to water in the desert. 

'The children are shell-shocked'

Morones says he's been inside several migrant children's detention facilities, including the one in El Cajon.

"We bring Teddy bears and sometimes play with the kids, read to the kids," Morones says. He says the conditions at the El Cajon shelter are humane, but the situation the children have been plunged into isn't.

"The children are shell-shocked. They don't know what to think. They don't speak English. They're in a strange land and now they're away from their parents. It's inhumane." 

Which is why Verduzco stands in front of the facility holding her sign, hoping to change the minds of those who support the "internment" of the migrant children.

'I couldn't sleep at night'

"I know that they have hearts, I know that they have to care," Verduzco says, tearing up. "I know that somebody will have to do something even if it's just me."

But soon, it's no longer just her.

Shortly after noon, 79-year-old Bob Long, a retired teacher, joins her on this improvised two-person picket line.

"It would bother my conscience if I wasn't here," Long says. "I couldn't sleep at night."

'I'm down here with one lady'

On Monday night's news, he says he saw House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visit the facility in El Cajon. So Tuesday he came himself, hoping to join what he assumed would be a massive protest. Instead, he says, "I'm down here with one lady. Everybody else or someplace else. For me, silence is violence."

Verduzco says she too is disappointed by the turnout, but that won't stop her, she says, from coming back tomorrow.

"I don't know what I could do, but if I have to stand here all day long and just let everybody know what's going on, I'll start there."