Migrant kids will be sheltered in Long Beach, following San Diego’s lead

Migrant kids are being sheltered at the San Diego Convention Center. Soon, Long Beach will follow in its footsteps. Photo by REUTERS/Veronica G. Cardenas

The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously last night to make the Long Beach Convention Center a temporary shelter for migrant children.

“Just last month alone, border patrol agents took custody of nearly 19,000 unaccompanied minors. Because of the overcrowding at the border patrol facilities, the process of transferring children into the custody of HHS has been stymied,” said Reginald Harrison, Long Beach’s director of disaster preparedness at the Long Beach City Council meeting last night “Therefore HHS is seeking support in housing the unaccompanied children while they complete the unification process [to unify] them with family members or sponsors.”

The number of unaccompanied minors entering U.S. custody along the southern border has reached all-time high. And it’s prompted the federal government to scramble to figure out where to house them.

Long Beach officials say they will follow the model set in San Diego, where city officials started housing hundreds of kids at its convention center last week. But things aren’t going well in San Diego: there are reports the facility is almost at capacity and some kids have tested positive for COVID-19.

And as of Monday, no family reunifications have taken place, according to KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler

“This is an emergency intake situation,” Rivlin-Nadler says. “The government function itself has been so stripped down over the past couple of years. It takes some time to rebuild that and get kids to their family members in a way that's safe, and that's right now taking several weeks.”

He notes that the San Diego Convention Center is larger than Border Patrol stations and facilities, which allows for ventilation and a space for kids to spread out. 

“Kids are able to go to learning pods. They're able to kick a soccer ball around, there's a play space. There's a medical facility, there's a separate cafeteria area, there's even TVs playing Netflix. So it's a totally different scene.”

But he points out that despite the change in locale, kids are still in detention.

“Anytime you keep kids in detention for several weeks you get into some really difficult mental health situations. Even people who are in favor of moving kids from Border Patrol stations to these larger facilities want to keep an eye on just how long kids stay in a space where they really can't even see the sun.”