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Border & Immigration

North County resources are stretched thin as migrant drop-offs continue

On Tuesday, San Diego County Supervisors will consider a call for a humanitarian crisis – involving migrants dropped off at sites around the county. They’re asking for federal assistance. Monday, a local congressman got a look at the situation at one of those drop-off sites. KPBS reporter Tania Thorne has the story from Oceanside.

For the past two weeks, groups of migrants have been dropped off at the Oceanside transit station by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

They’ve been getting help from volunteers and nonprofits who’ve set up tables with food and resources to help the disoriented migrants.

The support includes informing migrants where they are, calling their sponsors, helping them book a flight and get them to the airport.


All that has been laid on the shoulders of the local nonprofits and volunteers. But Oceanside City Councilmember Eric Joyce said that's just not sustainable.

"We don't have the man power or the woman power to get this thing done over the long term. We really need all local agencies to step in and be a partner. That's the only way we keep this from becoming a humanitarian crisis," Joyce said.

He hopes the county can lend some resources.

To that, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said, "We just don't have those resources ... we don't have just extra money laying around."

On Sunday, Desmond complained about U.S. border agents' continuing practice of dropping off migrants from the Mexico border in the San Diego County area.


"This morning, I visited the Oceanside transit station and witnessed Border Patrol officials drop off over 20 migrants. Nearly 7,000 migrants have been dropped in San Diego in the past 10 days alone. The County of San Diego can only do so much, and our resources are stretched to their limits," Desmond wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

"I want to thank our local non-profit organizations for stepping up to help process and assist them on their journey, but our immigration system is broken. Dropping people at various transit stations without resources is neither humane for San Diegans nor the migrants," he continued.

"We need comprehensive immigration reform. Our border is in chaos, and we need a stronger, more humane system."

Desmond said with no end in sight, the county can’t take on funding something that is the federal government's responsibility.

So at Tuesday’s board meeting, Desmond and Chairwoman Nora Vargas are presenting a humanitarian crisis declaration to send to the federal government.

"It's really a position that we're taking to ask the Federal Government, 'don't go beyond your capacity here in San Diego County', and we're asking for funding and no lateral transfers," Desmond said. "This is really more of an ask and a declaration of a humanitarian crisis here, because it's not fair to the people that live near these transit centers or these drop off sites. Nor is it fair to the migrants. I mean the first question they ask ... when they get off the bus is, 'Where am I?'"

Desmond said another idea has been to work with Customs and Border Protection and the nonprofits to send the migrants to one location closer to the San Diego airport, rather than multiple transit centers throughout the county.

San Diego's leaders have been speaking out against the policy in recent weeks. The cited cause of the drop-offs is an attempt to clear a space between two U.S.-Mexico border fences where hundreds of migrants, asylum- seekers and refugees had been camping, according to a statement from CBP.

The drop-offs have overwhelmed nonprofits, such as Jewish Family Service, which runs the shelter system for the San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition that supports asylum seekers arriving in San Diego.

"Effective immediately and going forward, the shelter will limit arrivals only to the most vulnerable asylum seekers released by DHS (Department of Homeland Security), including those with medical conditions, families, pregnant people, LGBTQIA, older adults, etc., as space allows," a statement from the nonprofit said earlier this month.

County Supervisor Joel Anderson penned a letter to President Joe Biden asking for assistance.

"Receiving assistance from the federal government to process the asylum seekers entering San Diego and immediately halting the lateral transfer of asylum seekers from other states will allow us to better address this continuing humanitarian crisis without adding to our region's existing homelessness crisis," he wrote.

According to Anderson's letter, the San Diego Rapid Response Network has served more than 157,000 people with shelter and other humanitarian aid since the DHS began releasing hundreds of migrant families onto San Diego's streets in the fall of 2018.

"We expect an unknown number of individuals to be released by DHS directly into our community, left at transit centers throughout the region to fend for themselves," Anderson wrote. "This is neither safe nor fair to San Diego County residents, nor to the those seeking refuge in our border county."

Rep. Mike Levin, D-49, got a first-hand look at the set-up for helping the migrants in Oceanside on Monday.

"Everybody needs to do their part. I think we all have a role to play. And at the federal level what I think we need to do long term is comprehensive immigration reform, acknowledge that our system is broken. In the near term we will try to provide whatever funding that we can with whatever available resources are out there to try to help this region and community," Levin said. 

But with a government shutdown looming this week, it might take some time for any resources to arrive.

In the meantime, migrants continue to be dropped off and volunteers are there to greet them.

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