Long Beach Convention Center opens to begin housing migrant children

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More than a hundred miles from the southern border, a shelter for migrant children opened Thursday at the Long Beach Convention Center.

With the continued flood of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, the convention center will house up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors, with the first 150 arriving Thursday.

The temporary shelter will mostly take in girls 17 years old and younger, in addition to boys younger than 12 years old— including siblings.

Inside the convention center, hundreds of small cots lined one of the halls. Some of the beds had story books and plush toys waiting atop the blankets.

When they arrive, the girls and boys will undergo a medical check, and be provided with clothing to choose from, toiletries, three meals a day as well as snacks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release.

The kids will have three to four hours of classroom time every day, with learning spaces set up throughout the convention center’s main hall. The site will also have a full size clinic, mental health care and social workers, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in a news conference.

There’ll also be an outdoor space for the children, and a recreational area with large screen TVs for video games, as well as board games, books and other supplies.

“We have been told by our HHS partners and the Office of Refugee Resettlement that they view our center as the most welcoming of these humanitarian mission shelters that they have seen,” the mayor said. “They hope to model some of the features into some of the other spaces.”

Officials stressed that the convention center is only a temporary space for the children, and the goal is to quickly reunite them with family members.

The mayor said federal officials aim to get every child placed into the care of their family or sponsor within about seven to 10 days — though some cases may take longer.

But as they wait, the shelters opening in California and across the country as part of a federally funded effort “bring children into a more humane setting,” the mayor said.

“These children have been met at the border most of the times with no parents, no adults, they don’t have their family with them,” the mayor said. “And so these children, essentially from the border are, as we know, in these detention centers along the border. And that is no place for a child.”

The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously earlier this month to approve plans to use the convention center to provide shelter, food and recreational activities to the children. The Biden administration opened multiple temporary sites like the one at the convention center to house children amid the influx of migrants at the border.

Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, was among a group touring the shelter at the Long beach Convention Center Thursday.

“While the facility like a convention center is preferable to a Border Patrol detention prison where migrants have been known to be mistreated, disregarded and even die. Housing migrants in large complex of complexes, such as this, have to be temporary in nature,” Salas said.

Salas praised the set up at the convention center, saying it was put together with “a great level of care, of love.” She described seeing bright colors and butterflies on the walls.

Still, she said, the reunification must happen quickly.

“We want to make sure that the parents can come forward to reunite with their children without fear of their immigration status in this country,” Salasa said. “The Biden administration has reiterated that they will not go after parents picking up their children, a practice that was common under the Trump administration” 

A similar scenario is already playing out in San Diego, where its convention center has been outfitted to temporarily house teenage girls through mid-July. A number of unaccompanied migrant children will also soon be given temporary housing at the Pomona Fairplex in Los Angeles County.

“Providing unaccompanied children a safe, healthy place is both our legal and moral obligation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “In the past month, we’ve made great strides expanding our capacity to meet those obligations while we work to safely and swiftly unify children with a family member or responsible sponsor.”

The city of Long Beach has established an online portal providing details on how community members can make tax-deductible monetary donations to help the children. It also lets organizations sign up to provide complimentary services at the temporary shelter, like health care, legal services, family reunification, education, meal services and language translation. 

More information on how to help can be found here.

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