San Diego

County Building Downtown to House Asylum-Seeking Migrants

A vacant county building in Bankers Hill will become temporary housing for asylum seekers following a San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote Tuesday to lease the building for $1 to an immigration support group.

The board voted 4-1 to approve a proposal to lease a former county courthouse on Sixth Avenue to the San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN), who will use the facility to provide shelter, food and services to up to 200 asylum-seeking migrants a day.

Supervisors Kristen Gaspar, Dianne Jacob and Jim Desmond all expressed concerns that while the lease would come at no cost to San Diego County, the municipality has been tasked with providing health services to migrants.

The California State Assembly Budget Committee on Tuesday did recommend to the full legislature to provide $5 million in state funding toward a San Diego region migrant shelter, according to local Assemblymember Todd Gloria. 

But Desmond said he would vote no on the proposal -- the only supervisor to dissent -- until he sees San Diego receive funding. 

"Until I see those dollars or see language in a bill at least securing dollars for the San Diego County taxpayers are reimbursed for their cost, which is up to $4 million this year, I am not going to be able to support the county’s temporary shelter.”

Jacob said while she was not sure the $4 million estimate was accurate, she was certain costs to provide health services to migrants would be in the millions by the end of the year.

Despite, Jacob said she voted yes because "Asylum seekers are here legally. It’s a health and safety threat that has been placed upon it. This is a temporary location and, to me, it’s the right thing to do." 

Ahead of the vote, dozens of San Diegans spoke in favor of the proposal while only one person spoke out against it.

Roger Ogden told the board he did not support the motion because it is encouraging more asylum-seeking migrants to come to the United States, specifically San Diego.

"The reason they come another thousand miles to San Diego is because you give the goodies to them," Ogden said.

County supervisors Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher brought forward the proposal to help SDRRN who were slated to lose their current facility in two weeks stating that without the county’s support, migrants could be subject to homelessness, disease and human trafficking.

It was backed in separate written statements by District Attorney Summer Stephan and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.

"We can drastically reduce the public safety risk to our community and those individuals and families by providing an alternate shelter site and other necessary services," Stephan wrote.

The building will be leased for $1 to SDRRN through a public-private partnership that extends no longer than Dec. 31, 2019, according to the board.

Fletcher said the group will then be responsible for running and administering services at the facility.

Jewish Family Service (JFS), one of SDRRN’s partners and the lead operator of the shelter, has already secured funding to operate and maintain the operation, the group said.

SDRRN said once released from ICE custody, migrants typically stay in their shelter for 24 to 48 hours before moving on to more permanent housing with relatives or sponsors.

Some days the organization sees up to 200 migrants released at one time. Other days, it's as few as 20, the group said.

The migrants that will be housed at the shelter have begun the asylum-seeking process and are released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers as they await trial proceedings.

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