The San Diego Convention Center will house as many as 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum as Biden administration officials attempt to address a surge that stretched existing immigration facilities beyond capacity in recent days, the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.
The venue is one of several “overflow” facilities established by the HHS and its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in recent days to provide temporary housing for unaccompanied minors. Thousands of migrant children have remained in custody at border facilities longer than is allowed under law as officials work through a backlog of entrants.
“The Emergency Intake Site will provide ORR with needed capacity to accept children from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into its care where they can be safely processed, cared for and either released to a sponsor or transferred to an appropriate ORR shelter for longer-term care,” an ORR spokesperson said in a statement. “The Emergency Intake Site is intended for use as a temporary measure.”
Migrant children housed at the facility will have access to “required standards of care for children.” Including “clean and comfortable sleeping quarters, meals, toiletries, laundry, and access to medical services,” the spokesperson added. Officials will screen occupants for COVID-19.
The HHS did not specify how quickly the children would be transferred to the facility, though local officials said the first migrants could arrive by this weekend.
“All efforts will be made to safely release children to sponsors or transfer them to other ORR care providers as quickly as possible,” the ORR spokesperson added.
The HHS has worked to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to open other temporary sites, including a pair of overflow facilities in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
The Biden administration reversed several Trump-era immigration policies upon taking office. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently reiterated that the “border is closed,” but said the administration would not deport unaccompanied minors who cross the border.
Earlier Tuesday, President Biden said he has appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead his administration’s effort to address the migrant surge. So far, the administration has resisted calls from GOP lawmakers to refer to the situation at the border as a “crisis.”
The San Diego Convention Center is best known for hosting “Comic-Con” each year. The venue is 2.6 million square feet, ranking among the largest of its kind in the country.