The first group of children is set to arrive Saturday at the Pomona Fairplex, which is serving as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors amid the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The 487-acre campus has the capacity to take in 2,500 children, with the first 250 expected to arrive Saturday.
The children will range in age from seven to 14, and the majority will be from El Salvador and Guatemala, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director Bonnie Preston.
They’ll likely arrive in buses from San Diego, Arizona, the Rio Grande Valley and other locations throughout the day on Saturday, Preston said.
At the Pomona Fairplex, the children will be provided with classes, mental health services, medical attention and translators. They’ll also get three meals a day and have access to several soccer fields and lounging areas with toys and books, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said at a news conference after officials toured the facility Friday.
It’s one of several temporary shelters across the country that federal government is to opening for children. Now, the number of unaccompanied migrant kids held in at U.S. Customs and Border Protection centers has dropped nearly 84% since last month’s peak, CNN reports.
First a coronavirus testing site, then a vaccination site and now an emergency intake center, “this campus saves lives,” Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval said of the Pomona Fairplex.
“We have an obligation as compassionate human beings to do everything we can to get these children home to their loved ones,” the mayor added.
Officials stressed that the children are only meant to spend a short time at the facility until they are reunited with their loved ones.
“This would be a safe and a temporary facility, because we don’t have an intention to keep those children here long,” Solis said. “They’ll be reunified and unified with family members, but also the mission here is to provide whatever support we can, once those children come into our arms.”
Solis said an estimated 80% of the children coming to the intake center have a family member or sponsor in the United States, and many already have some form of contact with someone and will be able to call them as soon as they arrive at the Fairplex.
“These children as you know have endured, abuse, persecution, deep poverty and violence, and they are seeking, simply refuge here in the United States,” Solis said.”Like so many of our ancestors, they come to this country seeking a better way of life and hope.”
After touring the Pomona facility, California Congresswoman Judy Chu said she was impressed with the set up at the Fairplex, contrasting it to detention centers where she described seeing children being held in “a horrible pit” with no soap or toothpaste.
“To see the care and concern that is being given to the children, where they have so much space, where they can have incredible recreation, where their education will be taken care of their mental health, as well as their physical health,” Chu said. “It is a huge contrast.”
The Pomona Fairplex isn’t the only location in L.A. County taking in migrants amid the crisis at the border. Last week, the Long Beach Convention Center began welcoming the first few hundred of the 1,000 unaccompanied minors it was expecting to house.
The Long Beach site also boasted learning spaces, large recreational areas and medical and mental health support for the children.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, joined officials at the news conference Friday. She has visited both the Pomona Fairplex and the Long Beach Convention Center.
“Since we toured the Long Beach facility, on a daily basis we’ve been getting about 30 to 45 calls from parents,” Salas said. “They’re confused, many times about where their children might be, they’re confused about the paperwork.”
Salas’ organization, CHIRLA, works with parents outside of facilities, providing them with information to help them reach out to if their children are in one of the facilities, she said.
“We heard in the tour that the goal is 14 days for this reunification to occur, and that we also know that that this is essential because every single day that a child is kept away from their loved ones, they suffer incredible mental and physical health, and impact,” Salas said.