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San Diego Convention Center To Hold Asylum-Seeking Unaccompanied Minors

 March 23, 2021 at 10:18 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Hundreds of migrant children will soon be coming to San Diego to be temporarily housed at the San Diego convention center. The new federal health and human services, secretary Javier Bissera as San Diego, city and County leaders for help over the weekend. Here's board of supervisors, chairman Nathan Fletcher, Speaker 2: 00:18 Just as we would want for any of our children to do everything we can to ensure a safe and compassionate location to help facilitate them through what is a very difficult time in their lives. Speaker 1: 00:28 PBS reporter max reveling Nadler is covering the story and he joins me with more max, welcome. Good to be here. What can you tell us about the unaccompanied children who will be coming to San Diego? Speaker 3: 00:42 Unaccompanied children who are coming to San Diego are asylum seekers who have been, um, arrested by border patrol at the Southern border. Uh, mostly in Texas for the past couple of days. And even in some cases, weeks they've been held at crowded border patrol facilities that are not supposed to hold, uh, children or really anyone for longer, long periods of time. And now they've been really stretched to their capacity at some cases operating at over 300 to 400, a percent of their capacity, even in normal times, not to mention in the midst of a pandemic. So this is the result of a, of an increase of unaccompanied children specifically. Speaker 1: 01:22 So is the need for housing, these children, the result of an increase in unaccompanied minors coming to the U S borders. Speaker 3: 01:29 Yeah, there's been a huge increase since the end of last year. And over the past couple of weeks of people crossing the border, specifically unaccompanied minors, some of them who had been sent ahead from their family who have been waiting in border cities for weeks and even years in some cases. So this is a huge uptick. It's comparable to other moments in time in the United States, but not anything that we've seen, uh, at least in the past two years Speaker 1: 01:57 And who will be caring for the children while they're at the convention center. Speaker 3: 02:01 So this is going to be completely controlled by the federal government. The County will support in any way it can. Um, but right now the federal government will be the one making the decision. Usually it contracts out, uh, some of the operations of facilities like this. So details are still being figured out, but it won't be, uh, the County itself, Speaker 1: 02:19 One San Diego immigrant advocate told the San Diego union Tribune. He hopes that facility will resemble a school and not a detention center that would further traumatize children. What do we know about the conditions of the facility and the care they'll receive all there? Speaker 3: 02:36 Yeah, so, you know, right now the focus is on these border patrol facilities that people are being held at. And a lot of other immigrant advocates have said that people can be released really quickly from these border patrol, um, facilities directly to family members, even in some cases where they've been separated from family members who are not their legal guardians beforehand. Um, and, and so they crossed with somebody that they knew the conditions at these detention centers are, have been a subject of focus as well for immigrant advocates outside of the border patrol, um, contexts. So these are office of refugee and resettlement facilities. And like this one ones that are being run by HHS health and human services. So we don't know exactly what the conditions will be like in this specific detention facility. Um, it hasn't been set up yet. We know when it was being used as a homeless shelter, it had mixed reviews from people who were being held there, who felt that they couldn't leave. That felt that it wasn't adequate for holding as many people for as long as they were as being held there. But again, they're going to kind of reconstruct the entire space, create a playground, um, that they said, but the children can't leave. So it is a holding facility and the people are going to be held for quite some time. And that's something that advocates have become kind of, uh, upset about that they're not being given to sponsors or family members as quickly as possible. Speaker 1: 04:00 Okay. How long are the children expected to be at that convention center? Speaker 3: 04:05 Yeah, so that's what it really raised. A lot of eyebrows was that the estimate was given 30 to 35 days and what's happening at the border right now, isn't necessarily a crisis of, um, you know, that, that the government can't find sponsors or family members. It's just the, the time that it now takes to clear do a background, check on those family members and sponsors and get these kids, uh, you know, out of a holding facility and into, uh, their family's hands. So right now the government is expecting 30 to 35 days, which is quite a while for people to spend time here. Speaker 1: 04:39 Hmm. And, you know, there are hundreds of migrants waiting to request asylum, currently living in a camp at the San Diego border. What do we know about when the us will begin to process their asylum requests? Speaker 3: 04:51 That's been really, uh, difficult to gauge because the Biden administration has not really announced when asylum will be restored along the Southwest border, as it deals with the higher numbers of unaccompanied minors and people crossing the border, especially in Texas, they've really told people to go back, um, to, to stay in central America. And that will be the place where they could apply for asylum. But of course you cannot apply for asylum, not in the country that you're applying for asylum. So that's the problem for a lot of people that are already here in Tijuana is they're being told to go back. They're being told to wait when really the only way that they could qualify for asylum is somehow stepping foot into the, into the United States. And honestly, they're, they're really willing and ready to do that in any way possible. Speaker 1: 05:38 I've been speaking to KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Adler, max. Thank you very much. Thank you.

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According to HHS plans, the site will be used for approximately three months with an average stay for each child from 30 to 35 days. Plans are to provide the children with food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers, as well as a recreation area.
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