2:03 PM Thursday, April 22 | Long Beach officials and a few community leaders got their first look at a holding facility for migrant children inside the Long Beach Convention Center Thursday morning just moments before kids began arriving there from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mayor Robert Garcia, the City Council and other elected officials toured rows of cots, medical facilities and recreation areas where children will stay until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is able to place them with sponsors or family members in the U.S.
The first children arrived shortly after the tour and a scheduled press conference where officials said the site is expected to house up to 1,000 children until it shuts down in August. Up to 150 were expected to arrive Thursday.
Children, mostly girls 17 and under, will be arriving in groups every other day, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is operating the site. Some boys, 12 and under, may also be housed there, according to a statement from the department.
Read the full story here.
— Jason Ruiz
11:52 AM Thursday, April 22 | Local officials and a small group of media members were allowed inside the Long Beach Convention Center today, hours before the first unaccompanied migrant children arrive.
After being found at the border, the children—mostly girls between 5 and 17—will be held at the Convention Center until they can be united with a sponsor or family member in the U.S.
Here are some photos from inside the facility before children arrived:
— Staff Reports
11:08 AM Thursday, April 22 | The migrant children to be held in Long Beach—most of them girls over the age of 5—will not all come at once, and the process to connect them with relatives in the United States will begin immediately, officials said at a media briefing Thursday.
Most often, the first call children want to make is to relatives back home, outside the United States, to let their families know they made it here safe, said Bonnie Preston, acting director of Region 9 for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Services.
The children will then be connected to case managers, who will work to find relatives or sponsors in the U.S. to care for the children until their case is processed in the legal system. Sometimes the kids come with names and numbers of contacts in the U.S. sometimes not, Preston said.
Some of the children are coming with siblings, but not all, Mayor Robert Garcia added. He said the federal government’s goal is to reunite children with a caregiver in the U.S. within 7 to 10 days, but some cases take longer.
Garcia said HHS said the goal is to reunite children within 7-10 days but some cases could take longer.
— Jason Ruiz (@JasonRuiz_LB) April 22, 2021
— Melissa Evans
10:54 AM Thursday, April 22 | Immigrant advocates applauded the city Thursday morning during a media briefing following a tour of the holding facility for migrant children opening today at the Long Beach Convention Center.
“The site and the tour was beautiful,” said Jessica Quintana, executive director of Centro CHA. “Children will be so comfortable here. … They are going to be provided with the best quality of care.”
Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said at the media event that children will have access to legal representation and their welfare and safety will be prioritized.
However, not all immigrant rights groups are united in their support of the city’s decision to lease the Convention Center to the federal government.
In the comments of the city’s live feed of the press conference on Facebook, the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition wrote that the city “should NOT promote this facility as a replicable model.”
They called on officials to instead combat “this new norm” that incarcerates children.
The coalition staged a protest during a City Council meeting when leaders approved the lease agreement.
— Melissa Evans
10:40 AM Thursday, April 22 | Congressman Alan Lowenthal said the migrant children who will be arriving in Long Beach as soon as today will be coming straight from the Mexican border.
“These are some of the most vulnerable children,” he said. “These are the ones that made it through a horrible situation to even get to the United States.”
The children are now separated from their families, “so we’ve got to demonstrate as we’ve done through the years that we can provide a caring, loving, supportive environment for these kids,” he said at a morning press conference following a tour of a holding center at the Long Beach Convention Center.
The immigration system is broken, the Long Beach congressman said, and it hasn’t been working for decades.
“The city didn’t create this,” he said. “What the city can do is make sure that children who are caught up in this broken system, that we can provide them services that they need.”
Congressman @RepLowenthal says he has visited some of the detention centers at the border over the last 9 years and they were “no place for a child.” “This city is trying to do the best it can” to help with the humanitarian crisis. pic.twitter.com/s4RyfAIuRm
— Kelly Puente (@KellyPuenteLB) April 22, 2021
— Melissa Evans
10:28 AM Thursday, April 22 | Unaccompanied migrant children are expected to arrive in Long Beach as soon as today, Mayor Robert Garcia said this morning at a press conference after he toured a federal facility that’s been newly installed at the Convention Center.
Garcia said the children will have a “huge recreational” setting, with large screens for videos, board games, books, supplies and other necessities.
The children will have three meals a day and snacks he said. They will also have access to mental health services, social services and medical services, Garcia said.
The government, he said, is building a full-size medical facility being run by UCLA Medical Center. They are bringing in local medical providers to “create a world-class system.”
The facility is being run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which takes custody of kids after they’re transferred out of Border Patrol custody.
— Melissa Evans
9:55 AM Thursday, April 22 | Hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children will begin arriving this week in Long Beach where they’ll be held at the Convention Center while federal officials work to reunite them with family or sponsors in the U.S.
Federal officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have been preparing for this over the past couple of weeks, ever since the Long Beach City Council agreed to lease them the space. The feds have installed temporary facilities to hold kids as young as 5 at the Convention Center, away from the COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the parking lot.
The preparations reached their final stages today as local politicians including Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia toured the facility.
Who is coming to Long Beach?
According to city officials, President Joe Biden’s administration has said the Convention Center will house up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors found at the border. Many are in sibling pairs, Garcia previously said.
Kids arriving at the border are often seeking asylum after fleeing poverty and gangs in Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala.
Officials have described the Convention Center facility as a temporary stop for the kids, who already have family members or other sponsors identified in the U.S. who will eventually take custody of the children.
Bringing in only kids with pre-identified sponsors is intended to move them swiftly through the Convention Center, which the city says must be vacated by Aug. 2 so the facility can begin hosting conventions again. There are already three planned for August.
How did we get here?
The city and federal government have positioned the Convention Center shelter as part of a humanitarian effort to ease overcrowding. The number of unaccompanied kids arriving at the border has reached all-time highs and the government has run out of space to house them. Recently, they have been packed into facilities well over capacity.
Republicans have blamed the sharp increase on the Biden administration, which is still using emergency pandemic powers to quickly expel many asylum seekers but has also eased Donald Trump’s “stay in Mexico” policy for kids. Democrats have argued this is a cyclical problem, pointing to the beginning of the increase during the Trump presidency last year, as well as a large uptick in the summer of 2019. Experts say the U.S. is not alone in seeing a spike in refugees and asylum seekers, and recent natural disasters in Central America have exacerbated the problem.
In the U.S, the Department of Health and Human Services, which is supposed to take custody of migrant kids from the Border Patrol after no more than 72 hours, has scrambled to find space for them. They’ve already converted convention centers in San Diego and Dallas into temporary shelters, and another is planned for the Fairplex in Pomona.
In March, the White House reached out to Long Beach’s mayor asking if the city could find space to house kids. The city identified the Convention Center as a possible location and Garcia swiftly set about rallying support for the idea behind the scenes.
The idea drew unanimous City Council support. There has been some pushback, however, from local immigrant rights organizations who say the need to detain children is a symptom of a broken immigration system. The Convention Center was also vandalized earlier this month with anti-ICE slogans and phrases like “no kids in cages.”
How can you help?
The city of Long Beach is accepting cash donations through the Community Foundation, “to make the children more comfortable,” although it’s not clear yet what the money can be spent on.
The city is also accepting book donations for the kids, which can be dropped off at several locations.
People and organizations interested in volunteering or providing other services can fill out a form provided by the city, but any decisions on who can help will ultimately be made by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which is running the facility.
Anyone interested in applying to become a sponsor for unaccompanied migrant kids in the future can get more info here.
— Jeremiah Dobruck
9:48 AM Thursday, April 22 | Local politicians are touring the Long Beach Convention Center this morning to see the conditions now that the federal government has converted it into a facility that will temporarily hold unaccompanied migrant children.
Children are scheduled to arrive at the facility this week, although officials have not said exactly when.
A news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Convention Center, which will soon hold up to 1,000 children while officials work to unite them with sponsors or family in the U.S.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Congressman Alan Lowenthal are expected to tour the facility with staff from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is running the center.
It’s unclear if press will be included in the tour, but officials will answer questions afterward.
— Staff Reports
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