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FEMA Reimburses County $2 Million for Costs Incurred During Migrant Crisis

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.
Matthew Bowler
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.

Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Greg Cox announced Friday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed the county more than $2 million for providing medical attention to immigrants and asylum seekers who temporarily stayed at a shelter near downtown San Diego earlier this year.

FEMA sent a check for $2,022,686.12 to San Diego County to cover costs that its Health and Human Services Agency incurred in the first half of the year. According to Fletcher and Cox, the funds were primarily meant for county staff and contracted organizations that dealt with a flu outbreak at the shelter in addition to offering resources to thousands of migrants.

RELATED: Asylum-Seekers Are Missing Their Court Dates When They ‘Remain In Mexico’


"We're glad the federal government stepped up to cover costs for a problem it created," Cox said. "Let's not forget we opened an unused county building for a shelter because immigration authorities were releasing asylum-seeking families on our streets without providing them any resources. We wanted to avoid a public health and safety crisis on our streets, and we have."

The Board of Supervisors voted to lease a former courthouse building to the San Diego Rapid Response Network — a coalition of service and faith organizations that offer humanitarian aid to migrants — for $1 in January to operate the shelter as a resource hub for migrants who recently crossed the U.S- Mexico border. SDRRN member organization Jewish Family Services opened the shelter in March.

A massive influx of migrants and asylum seekers descended upon on the southern border in the first half of the year, particularly in May and June when federal immigration officials used the shelter as an overflow facility for migrants apprehended in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection began flying migrants and asylum seekers to San Diego for processing due to overcrowding at the agency's Rio Grande Valley detention facilities. Once processed, those migrants and asylum seekers were often dropped off at the shelter by the dozens.

RELATED: CBP: Asylum-Seeker Won’t Be Separated From Newborn


Shortly thereafter, county health officials identified an outbreak of "influenza-like illness" among those at the shelter. More than 1,000 migrants were screened for flu over the ensuing weeks and roughly 250 flu cases were confirmed during that time.

County and nonprofit health providers have offered medical services to more than 20,000 families and children at the shelter, to date. According to Fletcher's office, HHSA officials are considering filing a claim for a second reimbursement from FEMA to cover additional outstanding costs.

"The county of San Diego, together with our partners from local nonprofits and (the) state, stepped up to address the border crisis," Fletcher said. "Having care and compassion for human life is our number one priority as government, and this reimbursement shows, if you do the right thing, you will be rewarded."