At least 70 of the more than 700 unaccompanied minors who crossed the U.S.–Mexico border illegally and were transported to a shelter at the San Diego Convention Center have tested positive for COVID-19, according to local and health officials cited in multiple media reports.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated Tuesday none have required hospitalization. Instead the girls who tested positive were removed from the others and kept in separate areas on a separate floor.
All illegal immigrant minors are being tested before boarding transportation to the Convention Center, where it costs $10K-20K per child per month to house them.
The center currently has 723 children, and the maximum capacity is 1,450, stated a spokesperson of HHS.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria told the media over the weekend that the San Diego shelter is only taking unaccompanied girls aged 13 to 17, who are being transferred from Texas shelters.
The first 500 unaccompanied minors who entered the United States as part of a surge of illegal immigrants at the southern border arrived at the facility on March 27.
“Today we are showing the world that San Diego is a welcoming city. … These are children. This is the right thing to do,” Gloria said.
He explained that the shelter will not only provide beds and food, but also provides a full range of services.
“I want to be clear, this is not just cots but [what] we are doing here is intensive case management, medical care, behavioral health care, educational services, recreational services, nutritious meals, legal services, religious services, and probably above anything, to be a safe place,” the mayor added.
Peters said: “This is not the answer to immigration reform, this is not the answer to asylum reform … but this is an act of compassion from neighbor to neighbor.”
The children will spend an average of 30-35 days in the shelter, which has been contracted until mid-July.
The San Diego shelter will operate as a processing facility where the children will stay until social workers can connect them with relatives or sponsors in the United States.
Officials said South Bay Community Services in San Diego is helping the minors contact relatives in the United States or helping them find sponsors and that “90 percent of the children” have relatives within the country.
The center is one of at least eight facilities that have been converted into shelters or created to house the influx of immigrant children entering the United States in recent months.
A small group of demonstrators from the group Patriot Fire staged a protest outside the convention center on March 27.
The organization said in a statement that they were not protesting against the individuals moving into the shelter but “against mass asylum fraud and the associated child/human trafficking.”
The group says that they believe “the fraud asylum system is supported by human trafficking by murderous smuggling cartels,” and San Diego’s participation in the broken system adds to the problem.
“Allowing it to take place just promotes the trafficking of many more people,” the group said.
The recent spike in illegal immigration has become a flashpoint of criticism for the Biden administration, with Republicans blaming the rollback of Trump-era policies and the overall tenor of messaging around immigration, widely seen as more welcoming of would-be asylum seekers.
President Joe Biden said that his administration is continuing to quickly expel most adults and families under a public health order imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The difference is that the government is allowing teens and children, at least temporarily, to stay in the country.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Tae D. Johnson said recently: “Our border is not open. The majority of individuals continue to be expelled under the Centers for Disease Control’s public health authority.”
The message that the U.S.–Mexico border “is not open” is part of the Biden administration’s more aggressive posture after a wave of criticism that Biden’s rhetoric on immigration reform was being interpreted by would-be illegal immigrants as an invitation to enter the country.
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to implementing an immigration system that is humane, orderly, and lawful,” an official from the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families said, adding that the administration “is monitoring the border and marshaling all corners of the government to find compassionate and fair solutions.”
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