About 500 migrant children, girls between the ages of 13 and 17, were taking shelter at the San Diego Convention Center Sunday in an effort to help ease the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border.
The first group of unaccompanied children arrived Saturday evening after flying on three charter flights from Texas. They were taken by multiple buses to the temporary shelter at the convention center.
The planes landed at San Diego International Airport between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
More girls were expected to arrive in San Diego on Monday, Mayor Todd Gloria said.
The girls were tested for COVID-19 before arriving in San Diego and will be tested every three days while staying at the convention center, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The creation of such emergency intake sites is designed to shift the minors – most of whom are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – more quickly out of U.S. Border Patrol custody while helping to alleviate overcrowding at holding facilities.
City and county officials announced last week that they would make the convention center available for the federal government to use as a temporary shelter for minors up to age 17.
Gloria and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher issued the following statement:
“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. Over the weekend, we agreed to open our convention center to the federal government for use as a temporary shelter. The city and county will support this federally funded effort by providing vital services to these vulnerable children who came to our country seeking safety.”
The site will be used for about 90 days, with the average stay for each child expected to be 30-35 days, city officials said. The children will be provided with food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers.
A recreation area will also be used outside the facility. The children will not be permitted to leave the facility until they are reunified with family members in the U.S. or connected with other sponsors.
The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program will fund the temporary shelter. Additional partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Center for Disease Control and the convention center.
According to Rip Rippetoe, convention center president and CEO, the venue will serve in this capacity until July. Detailed plans will be in place to ensure a smooth transition back to event activity in August.
“In response to this call to action from government leaders, our San Diego Convention Center team will extend our spirit of service and hospitality to this emergency use as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children seeking asylum,” Rippetoe said. “Though we’re eager to return to our primary role as a public gathering place and economic driver for our region, I am proud of the professionalism and expertise of our team as we rise to meet each new challenge during the pandemic.”
He added, “Together with our partners, we will provide a comfortable and humane environment for the children while they are reunited with their families.”
The San Diego County Office of Education said it is collecting contact information for certified teachers interested in supporting its programming for the girls, according to the Union-Tribune.
The effort comes as the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, Regional Task Force on the Homeless and San Diego Housing Commission has wound down Operation Shelter to Home, a program hosted at the convention center to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.