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As Convention Center Nears Capacity, No Children Have Been Reunified With Families, Sponsors

A health screening site set up inside the Convention Center for arriving migr...

Credit: Pool photo via CBS 8

Above: A health screening site set up inside the Convention Center for arriving migrant teens, March 27, 2021.

The convention center is now home to 1,353 children, nearing its capacity of 1,400 as children continue to arrive at the southwest border, mostly in Texas.

Of those, 198 have tested positive for coronavirus, after stays in Border Patrol stations. Those that test positive are being held in separate areas of the convention center.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

This weekend, the temporary shelter also accepted 49 boys, all under the age of 13.

Last week, nonprofit organizations that work with migrant youth toured the convention center, to look at the conditions the children are being held in.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Lindsay Toczylowski, the director of Immigrant Defenders, a nonprofit that took part in the tour, said the temporary shelter was a big improvement on cramped and dangerous Border Patrol stations. But she stressed to KPBS that this convention center should not be a place where children spend as long as an estimated 35 days.

“This is not ideal, I don’t think anyone feels that these are ideal communities for these children,” said Toczylowski. “The best place for these children is to be in our communities, with their sponsors, where they can be comfortably cared for and kept safe.”

She said the government should be taking steps to speed up reunifications and reassure family members or sponsors that stepping forward won’t put them at risk of deportation.

“It’s important that families know that they will not be targeted if they come forward to care for a child,” she said.

RELATED: As Migrant Children Arrive, San Diego’s Social Service Providers Step Up

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there have so far been no reunifications of any children in the convention center with their families or sponsors in the U.S.

Toczylowski said that by providing more assistance to local groups and eliminating some bureaucratic roadblocks, reunification can be done in a matter of days.

HHS has said it will not expand the convention center’s capacity, even as more children filter into HHS custody everyday. As of Sunday, there were over 14,000 unaccompanied children in its care.

On Monday, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia told the Los Angeles Times his city was in talks with the federal government to shelter 1,000 unaccompanied children at its convention center, creating a second emergency site in the state.

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