San Diego County Supervisors OK $20M from FEMA for Migrant Welcome Center

More than 136,000 migrants have been released from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody in the county since September, according to a local official

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to accept nearly $19.6 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for a migrant transition day center to help immigrants entering the United States travel to their final destinations.

Supervisors on April 30 voted 4-1 to advance the proposal, after directing Sarah Aghassi, interim chief administrative officer, to begin programs to temporarily provide shelter, food, transportation, acute medical care, personal hygiene supplies and labor to support migrants recently released from federal Department of Homeland Security custody.

Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas said the money would address "one of the biggest challenges" facing the county, global migration.

Speaking through board clerk Andrew Potter — due to a vocal cord issue — Vargas said the county was "taking a monumental step forward in addressing the needs of our migrant and refugee communities."

Vargas added the services are about treating every individual with dignity and respect.

A migrant NBC 7 spoke with on Tuesday highlighted the need for the center.

“In San Diego, we don’t know any information about the tram or the Metro," said Adil, 23, who is from Morocco.

Supervisors also approved a provision that requires nonprofit contractors to accept all migrants, to ensure they don't end up on the streets.

In a statement, Vargas said the county will move forward with soliciting bids to establish the migrant center.

The funding should be available by the end of May, with proposals due in June and a contract awarded in July, according to Vargas' office.

The board voted Tuesday after hearing an update from Barbara Jimenez of the county's Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities. She went through the steps county officials have taken since the FEMA money was first made available, including a meeting with nonprofits that assist migrants.

Feedback from that meeting included a suggestion that language translation and "culturally informed" services be made quickly available to those starting their journey in the United States, she said.

Jimenez said that since mid-September, more than 136,000 migrants have been released from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody in the county.

Just as he did in late April, Supervisor Jim Desmond voted no, saying the money doesn't equal a long-term plan for a national migration crisis.

This item "effectively approves and perpetuates the federal government's mismanagement of the border," Desmond said. "I refuse to be complicit in a broken system."

Desmond criticized the Biden administration for not following the law, and once again stressed the need for better security and vetting process for migrants.

More people are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border than the Border Patrol can manage, which is a safety concern, Desmond said. He said more than 80% of migrants claiming asylum don't qualify, and there's no recourse for those who don't show up to their court date.

"We should not be tolerating the current situation at the border," he also said.

Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer said Desmond knows that there was a bipartisan bill in Congress that would have answered some of his concerns but that former President Donald Trump didn't want it passed so it would be a political weight around President Joe Biden's neck.

"We all agree that we have to fix the border crisis" and that more money is needed for security, Lawson-Remer added.

"I know that we never get to say the stuff that's really going on; we just sit there and have theater every day," said Lawson-Remer, who praised the CAO's office for working to prevent migrants from being stuck in the county.

Supervisors last October approved $3 million, followed by an additional $3 million in December, to open a temporary migrant center.

After that facility was closed due to a lack of funding, supervisors in late February approved Vargas' proposal for a sustainable, federally funded center.

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