20 children from Convention Center shelter have been reunited with family so far, officials say

So far, 20 of the hundreds of migrant children at the Long Beach Convention Center shelter have been reunited with their families, federal and local officials said after they were given a private tour of the facility Thursday afternoon.

After the tour, Congresswoman Nanette Barragán, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell took questions from members of the media on the steps of the Convention Center.

The politicians said that 40 more migrant children are expected to leave the facility and be reunited with families by this weekend, and by next week, the goal would be to bump that number up to 100. The reunifications are taking place in states across the country.

“This is progress we need to keep working toward,” Barragán said. The congresswoman represents the 44th District that includes North Long Beach. She also chairs the U.S. House Homeland Border Security Subcommittee. She was conducting several oversight visits this week at detention and emergency shelter facilities in California and Texas and stopped to see the Convention Center in Downtown, which was converted into a temporary shelter last month.

As of Thursday, the center was hosting 729 kids.

The federal government tapped Long Beach to host an emergency shelter after record-breaking numbers of unaccompanied children began arriving along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Garcia and Mitchell accompanied the congresswoman on the tour, where they were able to see the facility firsthand, talk with the administrative staff at the center and speak directly with some of the children.

They said they spoke to two girls, ages 5 and 15, who were staying at the facility. One boy who came from Honduras reportedly told the touring officials that he had left Honduras in fear of the mara gangs that often recruit young men into their ranks. He said his mother and father were still there.

“They’ve been through a lot,” Barrágan said.

Garcia said the inside of the facility was similar to a school with children reading and playing. As soon as they arrive, children are assigned a caseworker who works to contact a child’s family or sponsor living in the country.

The facility has drawn criticism from some activists who cited testimonies of inhumane conditions at other U.S. migrant holding centers as reasons for concern.

Members of the media have not been allowed inside the shelter while it’s operating.

So far 55 children had tested positive for COVID-19—six more than was was reported on Wednesday—at the shelter. Those that tested positive were isolated from the others, but siblings stayed together.

During the press conference, Garcia said that only one child had shown symptoms of the virus but did not need medical attention beyond what was provided onsite. The children were receiving medical care from in-house medical teams, but in one case a child had to be treated outside of the shelter for coughing up blood, Barrágan said. The child has returned to the shelter, but no other details on their condition was provided.

Federal officials have said the goal is to host children at the shelter no more that seven to 10 days before they’re reunited with family or a sponsor. Some of the children said they had family members in New York and Connecticut. The shelter will continue to take in migrant children until Aug. 2, Garcia said.

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.