Hand prints of migrant children house at the shelter
Hand prints left by migrant children housed at the convention center. Courtesy of Rep. Scott Peters’ office

The convention center in downtown San Diego is ready to reopen for meetings after a successful program to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children.

Mayor Todd Gloria was joined by Democratic members Congress and the county Board of Supervisors at a press conference on Thursday to mark the transition.

“Thousands of vulnerable children hoping to escape unimaginable conditions in their home countries needed San Diego’s help — and the people of San Diego responded,” Gloria said. “In a matter of days, working together, we built a safe, nurturing home away from home for these kids, and in just a few months, we created a model program for the rest of the country to follow.”

Beginning in March, the convention center served as a federally controlled emergency intake site that helped reunite 2,408 migrant children with family members in the United States.

Under contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, local nonprofit South Bay Community Services provided case management, Rady Children’s Hospital provided medical care, and the San Diego County Office of Education provided educational services.

The effort was lauded by federal officials as setting an example for the rest of the country.

“We have a legal and moral obligation to safely care for unaccompanied children as we work to unite them with their parents or sponsors,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “From day one, the San Diego Emergency Intake Site accomplished this mission and served as a model for other emergency intake sites.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the effort at the convention center “set the example for kindness and decency during an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous time for the health and welfare of migrant children.”

The convention center has been hiring for its reopening and the first event — a meeting of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics — begins Aug. 1.

Rep. Scott Peters, whose district includes the downtown area, praised San Diego’s “act of compassion” and said the convention center “will now return to its role as a major economic engine for our region.”

Chris Jennewein

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