Press conference by San Diego Rapid Response Network
Norma Chavez-Peterson speaks at a press conference outside St. Jude Shrine of the West. Photo by Chris Jennewein

A coalition of respected San Diego social service agencies revealed Monday an emergency program to help hundreds of refugees “abandoned on the street by ICE” in recent weeks.

Led by the ACLU, Jewish Family Service and Catholic Charities, the San Diego Rapid Response Network is responding to a new policy by Immigration and Customs Enforcement under which families seeking asylum are dropped at bus stations and other public locations wearing ankle bracelets but without other arrangements.

“In our proudest moments, America has been a safe haven,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, at a news conference to reveal the program. “We really believe that no one stands alone.”

The agencies have set up a shelter where families are provided with food, water, cots and bathrooms, as well as medical assistance and help in making legal and travel arrangements.

“When they arrive to us, they’re sick, tired and dehydrated,” said Kate Clark, director of immigration services at Jewish Family Service on San Diego.

The shelter, whose location was not revealed because of privacy and safety concerns, was set up Oct. 26 after ICE began the new release program  A network of volunteers calls a hotline to report the arrival of refugees, who are then picked up and taken to the shelter

The shelter has been handling 60 to 80 people a night, with the number recently growing to 100 or more, organizers said. Families typically stay 24 to 48 hours until travel arrangements can be made.

“This is a humanitarian problem, not a political problem,” said Vino Pajanor, executive director of Catholic Charities at the Diocese of San Diego. “These families are fleeing violence and repression in their own countries.”

Chavez-Peterson said the agencies decided to reveal the shelter on Thanksgiving week in hopes that San Diegans who remember their own immigrant backgrounds will donate to a GoFundMe campaign. She also appealed for local governments to help.

“This is an appeal for local governments to act. These organizations cannot do it alone,” she said.

San Diego residents also can donate to the GoFundMe campaign, monitored by coalition member Jewish Family Service of San Diego, at

The Rapid Response Network also fields calls for immigration assistance at its 24-hour hotline, (619) 536-0823. As of early Monday afternoon, the coalition had raised $8,393 of its $150,000 goal.

Meanwhile, San Diego-based Border Angels seeks monetary donations to buy food, diapers, winter clothing, underwear, socks, hygienic products, blankets and tents for the Central American migrants.

People interested in donating can contact Border Angels at (619) 269-7865 or A GoFundMe page can be found here. Or go to the Walmart registry to buy items for Border Angels.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.