San Diego Convention Center

Younger Migrant Girls Moving to San Diego Convention Center After 300 Teens Relocated to Texas

The shelter is expected to receive 250 unaccompanied migrant children on Sunday

NBC Universal, Inc.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has transferred about 300 teenage girls who had arrived this month at the San Diego Convention Center to a facility in Texas to make room for younger children.

The San Diego Convention Center, which is currently being used to house unaccompanied minors who arrived in the United States to seek asylum from their homelands, reached capacity last weekend at about 1,450 children -- all girls ages 13 to 17 and some younger who were accompanied by their teenage siblings.

Photos: Inside the San Diego Convention Center Being Used to Provide Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Minors

But on Friday, another 300 girls ages 5 to 12 arrived at the San Diego Convention Center.

Due to space limitations at the facility, and to accommodate the younger girls' arrival, an equal number of older girls were transferred to Fort Bliss in Texas.

San Diego leaders said the swap was made due to San Diego's ability to better care for younger children.

There was a dramatic increase in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. NBC 7's Amber Frias spoke to an expert about what's at stake.

"San Diego was chosen as the best place for the most vulnerable younger children because of the high standards of care that our local service providers like South Bay Community Services and Rady Children’s Hospital have set," said a joint statement from San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and San Diego County supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Nora Vargas.

Caseworkers with South Bay Community Services will continue their efforts to reunite the transferred girls, as well as the ones at the convention center, with family members in the U.S. or with sponsors who can house the minors while they go through court proceedings for their asylum claims. The majority of the migrants were from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Meanwhile, children will be provided with health services from Rady Children's Hospital as well as food, a place to sleep, educational and recreational activities, and showers.

At least 134 children have tested positive for COVID-19. The girls, as well as anyone they may have come in contact with, are being separated from others. HHS has implemented COVID-19 safety protocols that includes tested every three days. Migrants are also separated into pods of about 50 in case of breakouts.

The kids will not be permitted to leave the convention center until reunification happens.

San Diego leaders expect the convention center to be at full capacity through July 15.

The number of unaccompanied minors has dramatically increased due to a complex mix of factors, straining the ability of CBP to hold them in their detention facilities until they can be turned over to HHS. The department houses them until they can be placed with relatives or sponsors while the government decides whether they have a legal claim for residency.

San Diego was the first city to step up to house migrant children and the convention center facility became operational on March 27 with the help of FEMA and HHS. The convention center was vacant due to a stop of events during the coronavirus pandemic. While the county operates the facility, it is managed and paid for by HHS.

A facility has also been established at the Long Beach Convention Center and one at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds was expected to be announced on Friday.

As of April 8, there were 3,881 children in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Custody and nearly 17,000 in HHS care. The number doesn't include children from Mexico who will be sent back to their home country while claims are processed.

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