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Border & Immigration

Migrant Shelter Nearing Capacity At SD Convention Center

Cots laid out for unaccompanied migrant teens temporarily sheltering at the San Diego Convention Center, March 27, 2021.
Pool photo via Nevin Cepeda / Union-Tribune
Cots laid out for unaccompanied migrant teens temporarily sheltering at the San Diego Convention Center, March 27, 2021.

The San Diego Convention Center shelter for unaccompanied migrants was expected to reach its 1,450 capacity within days as another group of minors arrived Sunday, federal officials said.

There were 1,177 girls housed at the shelter and about 200 more were arriving Sunday, bringing the total number to about 1,377 children, according to Carol Fiertz of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing operations at the facility.

The shelter houses girls aged 13 to 17 who were seeking asylum in the United States. The shelter was set up after an effort by federal, county and city officials to help the humanitarian crisis at the southwest border by providing temporary housing.


The creation of such emergency intake sites is designed to shift the minors — most of whom are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — more quickly out of U.S. Border Patrol custody while helping to alleviate overcrowding at border holding facilities.

On March 22, city and county officials announced that they would make the convention center available for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use as a temporary shelter for minors up to age 17.

The first group of children arrived March 27. The site will be used for about 90 days, with the average stay for each child averaging 30-35 days, city officials said. The children are being provided food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers.

About 133 children at the shelter tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday and were separated from the other girls on a different floor, officials said. An outdoor recreation area was being used by the girls to play.

The children will not be permitted to leave the facility until they are reunified with family members in the United States or connected with other sponsors.


The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program are funding the temporary shelter, and additional partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the convention center.

The effort comes as the city and county of San Diego, Regional Task Force on the Homeless and San Diego Housing Commission wound down Operation Shelter to Home, a program hosted at the convention center to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.