SAN DIEGO, California—The San Diego Convention Center, which has hosted the San Diego Comic-Con since 1971, has now transformed its exhibit halls into a temporary shelter.
On March 27, the first 500 unaccompanied minors who have recently entered the United States as part of a surge of illegal immigrants at the southern border arrived in San Diego from Texas.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria told media on March 27 that the San Diego Convention Center shelter is only taking unaccompanied girls aged 13 to 17 who are being transferred from Texas shelters.
Gloria said the shelter could accommodate up to 1,450 unaccompanied minors. Following the first 500, another 250 are scheduled to arrive on Monday.
Officials tightly controlled what photos and videos media could take. The media was only allowed to take photos in designated areas. No images out of the press briefing were allowed.
Gloria and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas led elected officials, including Democratic congressmen Scott Peters, Juan Vargas, Mike Levin, and Sara Jacobs—who were newly elected last November—for a tour of the exhibit hall where some cots had already been placed. The guided tour was not open to the press. A local station, CBS8 TV, was selected to provide pool video.
San Diego About Compassion
“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.”
Officials said South Bay Community Services in San Diego are helping the minors contact relatives in the United States or helping them find sponsors. They said that 90 percent of the children had relatives in the United States.
The children will spend an average of 30-35 days in the shelter, which has been contracted until mid-July.
Why Children Are Unaccompanied
Scott Peters told The Epoch Times that children have been coming across the southern border “because those parents want their children to have a good future in the United States.”
Peters said that he visited Honduras a few years ago and witnessed people facing severe economic and violence problems.
“The economy there is actually based on people sending money from here to there,” he said. “I think a lot of parents say, ‘I don’t want this for my kids,’ so they’ve encouraged and allowed their children to make this amazing journey to get a better life. Many of them come unaccompanied,” he added.
The U.S. government treats those who travel without parents or relatives as unaccompanied minors. But some children travel from Central American countries to the U.S. border with their parents or relatives and are later separated from them.
Jason Bercovitch, immigration advisor and Director of Constituent Services for Scott Peters, said that now, parents are not allowed to enter the United States—only children are allowed. So after arriving at the border, each family makes their own decision whether to separate from their children in the hopes that they can enter as an unaccompanied minor.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference on March 5 this year that the Biden administration allows all unaccompanied children arriving at the border to enter the United States. She said it would be inhumane to do otherwise.
However, adults and families will be refused entry.
Refugee Fraud, Child Smuggling
Also seen at the convention center on March 27 was a small group of protesters from Patriot Fire.
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.
Jane Yang contributed to this report.