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Bankers Hill Migrant Shelter Population Dwindles Amid Hardline Federal Policy

Two women sit on their bunks combing their hair after bathing at a temporary ...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Two women sit on their bunks combing their hair after bathing at a temporary shelter for migrant families in downtown San Diego, March 27, 2019.

The population at a migrant shelter in Bankers Hill has dwindled significantly as the number of Central American immigrants and asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has plummeted, the San Diego Rapid Response Network announced Thursday

The shelter, operated by SDRRN member organization Jewish Family Service of San Diego, has served as a hub of humanitarian aid, legal services and other resources for more than 17,000 migrants and asylum seekers since it opened last November. The shelter has been routinely filled with several hundred migrants after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border or are processed by federal immigration officials.

The SDRRN confirmed the shelter has only received 141 new migrants and asylum seekers in the last week, due in part to a sharp decline in border crossings over the last month. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that border apprehensions by federal immigration authorities fell by 28% in June, the first such decline of the year.

The decline is a stark contrast to the record apprehension levels earlier this year, which reached as high as 144,278 in May. While immigration totals tend to drop during the summer months due to higher temperatures, the decline could also be indicative of policies enacted by the U.S. and Mexico to stanch the flow of migrants from countries like Guatemala.

Last month, the Mexican government reached a deal with the Trump administration to deploy federal troops to the country's border with Guatemala in an effort to stop migration from Central American countries.

"Since the administration reached a new agreement with Mexico, we've seen a substantial increase in the number of interdictions on the Mexican southern border," Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement Tuesday. "These initiatives are making an impact."

In addition, the United States instituted the Migrant Protection Protocols, oft called the Return to Mexico program, which requires asylum- seeking migrants to return to Mexican border cities while they wait for a hearing of their asylum claim. The policy indicates a radical change from old asylum policies, which allowed asylum seekers to enter the United States with an order to return to court at a certain date and time.

"The San Diego Rapid Response Network migrant shelter stands at the ready to assist any future families and individuals as they cross the border to seek asylum," according to the coalition. "In addition to shelter, the San Diego Rapid Response Network provides legal services to individuals and families, including those impacted by MPP."

The Bankers Hill shelter dealt with additional challenges in May and June after being used as an overflow facility for migrants apprehended in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. Federal immigration officials began flying migrants and asylum seekers to San Diego for processing due to overcrowding at Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley detention facilities.

Once processed, many of those migrants and asylum seekers were dropped off at the shelter by the dozens. Shortly thereafter, county health officials identified an outbreak of "influenza-like illness" among those at the shelter.

Since May 23, when the county Health and Human Services Agency announced the outbreak, health officials have confirmed 235 cases of flu and screened more than 1,000 migrants at the shelter. No new cases have been confirmed since June 24.

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