San Diego Convention Center

City, County Agree to Use San Diego Convention Center to House Children Seeking Asylum

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San Diego County and city officials announced Monday that they would be working with the federal government to provide shelter for some of the thousands of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States.

In a joint statement released Monday, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and San Diego County Board of Supervisors chair Nathan Fletcher sald the the San Diego Convention Center was being made available for the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services to use as a temporary shelter.

"When HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra requested our help to house some of the unaccompanied minors at the border, we knew it was the right thing to do," Gloria and Fletcher were quoted in the statement. "Over the weekend, we agreed to open our convention center to the federal government for use as a temporary shelter. The city and county will support this federally funded effort by providing vital services to these vulnerable children who came to our country seeking safety. We are working closely with our federal partners to finalize the details for preparing to receive these young people and provide them with care, compassion and a safe space to transition while they are reunited with families or sponsors."

NBC 7's Priya Sridhar spoke to Rep. Scott Peters about the issue.

Becerra was confirmed to the HHS secretary position just last week. He was formerly California's secretary of state.

Monday's announcement came as a surge of migrants has hit the U.S. southern border.

Since Pres. Joe Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials. There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February — an increase of 168% and 63%, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center.

The San Diego Convention Center will soon house unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the U.S. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford has information on how the space will be used.

As of last week, more than 4,200 children are being held in Border Patrol facilities, with 2,943 of those children held over the 72-hour legal limit, according to data obtained by NBC News.

Customs and Border Patrol encountered 565 unaccompanied children along the southern border on average per day last week, up from an average of 313 children per day in the prior month, NBC News reported.

On a call with reporters on March 17, administration officials said they are working to open new facilities for the children, increase emergency intake sites and reduce the time to unify a child with a family member or sponsor.

NBC 7’s political reporter Priya Sridhar interviews Rep. Scott Peters about the growing number of unaccompanied minors on the border.

Until recently, San Diego's convention center was used as a homeless shelter for most the pandemic. In fact, Gloria announced the phase-out of that role for the site in early March.

Officials have not yet determined a date for the convention center to begin housing the children, though officials said Monday they expect it to be utilized for three months for that purpose, with individual children being expected to stay at the location for an average of 30-35 days. Officials have also not said how many children are expected to stay at the shelter at one time.

'[The children] will be provided with food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers," Monday's news release from Fletcher and Gloria said. "A safe and secure recreation area will also be created on the exterior of the facility. The children are not permitted to leave the convention center until reunification occurs."

The Biden administration on Friday ended a Trump-era policy allowing ICE to collect information on the immigration status of people who come forward to care for unaccompanied migrant children.

The administration on March 10 announced the reinstatement of an Obama-era program that would allow some Central American children to seek to legally enter the U.S. from their home countries.

The White House continues to blame the increased numbers of migrants encountered at the southern border on the practices of former President Donald Trump's administration.

Axios on Monday first published a series of photos taken inside the largest Border Patrol detention center, a sprawling tent facility in the South Texas city of Donna. The photos were released by Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat from the border city of Laredo.

The images published Monday showed immigrant children in U.S. custody at the border sleeping on mats under foil blankets, separated in groups by plastic partitions, photos that President Joe Biden's administration has tried for weeks to keep the public from seeing.

Officials barred nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight from entering a Border Patrol tent where thousands of children and teenagers are detained. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of requests from the media for access to detention sites. Such access was granted several times by the administration of President Donald Trump, whose restrictive immigration approach Biden vowed to reverse.

The Associated Press and CNBC contributed to this report --Ed.

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