About 500 girls between the ages of 13-17 — unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum in the United States — were expected to arrive at the San Diego Convention Center Saturday evening, Mayor Todd Gloria announced Saturday.
The convention center will be used over the next 30-35 days to provide temporary shelter, the mayor said Saturday.
About 30 more girls will be arriving Monday, he said. The center will accept no more than 1,400 children.
“This is a temporary emergency posture,” Gloria said. “We want to make it clear that we are a welcoming city.”
The mayor said they’re not just supplying cots. The shelter will include educational and recreational services, meals, hygiene, medical services, legal help and a safe place to stay while the children await unification with family or sponsors in the United States.
“These are children, this is the right thing to do,” Gloria said.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said the temporary shelter at the convention center is not the answer to immigration reform.
“Everyone here agrees this not a perfect system,” Peters said. “Today we’re just offering compassion from neighbor to neighbor.”
The vice chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisor, Nora Vargas, said San Diego is a welcoming community and the opening of the convention center to children was showing how “the government is working for people who need our help.”
A group from Patriot Fire also gathered nearby Saturday at a rally to protest the opening of the convention center to house unaccompanied minors.
Patriot Fire issued a statement Saturday saying their rally was held to protest “mass asylum fraud and the associated child-human trafficking in San Diego. Hundreds of homeless Americans will be booted out of the convention center and replaced by the trafficked juveniles and children, starting on Saturday. This will be a peaceful, free-speech street rally.”
Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, said he noticed the group of protesters as he was arriving at the convention center.
“I saw some voices of rage and hate, but that’s not a majority of San Diegans,” Vargas said.
County officials said the convention center was the first “emergency influx site” in California.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is operating the shelter and is contracting with local providers for supportive services.
City News Service contributed to this article.