An emergency shelter for migrant children at the Long Beach Convention Center is now empty after the City of Long Beach reunited the kids with their families and sponsors.
The unification of all 1,538 children with their families was completed a week ahead of the schedule, according to Mayor Robert Garcia. The temporary shelter had been expected to close on August 2.
1538 migrant kids are now unified with family or sponsors from our Long Beach shelter. No children remain in the convention center and we are so thankful for this incredible effort and the support. pic.twitter.com/nnyc5y9fRP— Robert Garcia (@RobertGarcia) July 23, 2021
The mayor tells KCRW that the city worked closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) while bringing in a team of social workers, educations, and clinicians who made sure the sheltered children are healthy and safe.
Garcia says it was emotional and gratifying to witness the kids safely uniting with their families. “The kids just want to see their family. And they're grateful to be in the United States. At the end of the day, we do everything we can to show them compassion and love while they're here.”
The Long Beach Convention Center was one of a handful of facilities in California chosen by federal authorities to temporarily house migrant children as U.S. Custom and Border Protection continues to see an increase in unaccompanied minors entering the country.
The mayor admits while he knew it was going to be a big challenge to track down the family members of hundreds of kids while keeping them safe, his answer was an “instant yes” when the HHS reached out to the city for help.
“These are kids who need love and support. I knew that we could do that in a way that would be reflective of our country's values. We never knew how it was going to go, but the city came together [by donating] over 130,000 books and toys to these kids, got them gift cards on their way out, and brought in the aquarium for educational seminars and opportunities. I'm really proud for Long Beach.”
Not everyone wanted Long Beach to play this role. Some activists and immigrant rights groups took to the streets this spring to express their opposition, saying shelters are a band-aid to a larger immigration crisis.
The mayor, who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 5, says the city is working with immigrant attorneys to make sure the kids have good legal representation.
While the previously sheltered children are lucky to be with their families now, more migrants are arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. If the federal government wants Long Beach to step up, Mayor Garcia says he will help anyway he can, even if the Long Beach Convention itself may not be available.
“We have the Convention Center ready to go [for other events] in mid-August. The Convention Center itself can't be another emergency shelter. But if there are ways we can help in the future and be supportive of this broader mission. I'm sure we're always happy to have those conversations.”
Another federal shelter is still operating at the Pomona Fairplex.