Photo credit: Nelvin Cepeda / SD Union-Tribune
Pictured at center: Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, Mayor Todd Gloria, Congressman Juan Vargas, County Supervisor Nora Vargas
By Arturo Castañares
The waterfront convention center that hosts the annual COMIC-CON will temporary provide shelter for as many as 1,450 girls that arrived in the country as unaccompanied minors seeking asylum and are now under the care of the US Health and Human Services Department.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria held a press conference and tour of the facility this morning, along with County Supervisor Nora Vargas, and four of San Diego’s five congressional representatives: Congressmembers Juan Vargas, Scott Peters, Sara Jacobs, and Mike Levin.
“We know that San Diego is a welcoming community, and we don’t mean that just by words but by our actions and our deeds,” Mayor Gloria said during the press event held just outside one of the main exhibition halls where cots have already been setup to house the first 500 girls expected to arrives this weekend. “These are children. This is the right thing to do. And San Diegans will always do the right thing.”
When Gloria was asked whether he thought providing shelters for these minors sent the wrong message to potential migrants from other countries, he deferred speaking about the broader issues related to immigration, but Congressman Peters stepped forward to say the San Diego delegation is committed to immigration reform.
“This is not the answer to immigration reform. This is not the answer to asylum reform, or even the answer to hundreds of girls that will rest their heads here,” Peters said. “My colleagues here before you are all committed to solving the bigger problem.”
The girls are expected to be placed with relatives or sponsor families through the foster care system within a month.
South Bay Community, a local non-profit, will have case managers available to help locate the minors’ families and help to place the girls in other homes. Educational and medical services will also be available for the minors.
Mayor Gloria responded to a question about whether the shelter would be a long-term arrangement by saying he has directed that it only be for a short period because conventions are already booked in the facility for events in August. The shelter is expected to be used through June.
La Prensa San Diego asked Mayor Gloria if the City is providing the space for free or if the federal government will be reimbursing or paying for its use.
Both Gloria and San Diego Convention Center CEO Clifford Rippetoe responded that the federal government will be paying for the use much like a typical convention event, plus additional costs for staffing and other services.
The Convention Center had served as a temporary shelter for homeless individuals, known as ‘Operation Shelter to Home’, since last April. Up to 1,300 unhoused individuals at a time used the facility that had separate operations run by Father Joe’s Villages, Alpha Project, and Veterans Village of San Diego.
Last week, the remaining unhoused individuals were moved to either a facility run by Father Joe’s Villages at Golden Hall near City Hall or two large tented facilities in downtown run by Alpha Project.