Migrants walk back to Mexico on border bridge
Asylum-seeking migrants from Central America walk back towards Mexico on the International border bridge in Ciudad Juarez. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

City and county officials announced Monday that the San Diego Convention Center will be used for three months to temporarily house unaccompanied immigrant minors amid a surge along the border.

At the same time, local nonprofit organizations have stepped up to house families and individual adults in hotel rooms.

Reuters reported Saturday that migrants were being flown from Texas to San Diego because of a surge along the Rio Grande.

Mayor Todd Gloria and Board of Supervisors’ Chair Nathan Fletcher said the federal government would fund the effort to provide food and shelter at the downtown center to “vulnerable children who came to our country seeking safety.”

“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 said in a joint statement. “Over the weekend, we agreed to open our convention center to the federal government for use as a temporary shelter.”

The center, which has no scheduled events because of the pandemic, will be used to house children up to age 17 for a total of 30 to 35 days until they can be reunified with their families or processed for immigration.

“Every child in our care deserves a safe place to rest and to know their well-being is addressed,” Becerra said. “Our task is to protect the health and safety of unaccompanied children, who are under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, while they go through their immigration proceedings.”

The convention center’s use to house the homeless during the pandemic is currently being wound down, but a start date for sheltering migrants has not been set.

While children are headed to the convention center, Jewish Family Service of San Diego and other nonprofits are sheltering individual asylum seekers and families in hotel rooms.

Since March 1, staff and volunteers have assisted more than 1,700 asylum seekers, compared to 490 migrants served during the entire month of February.

“We remain committed to welcoming asylum seekers into the United States and helping them travel to their loved ones across the U.S., with public health as the top priority,” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service.

Hopkins said the last two weeks have been “exceptionally challenging” and said the agency is hiring more staff and seeking community volunteers.

The San Diego Regional Response Network led by JFS provides COVID testing, case management, financial and travel assistance, legal support and general medical assistance, in partnership with the State of California, County of San Diego Public Health and UCSD Health.

“We continue to work with all levels of government and our partners to determine how we can all best meet needs,” said Hopkins. “It is critical that the federal government continue to work to rebuild and reimagine our country’s broken asylum and immigration systems, including the processes for migrant shelter services across the border region.”

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