The 729 migrant children being housed at the Long Beach Convention Center are being well cared for and appear to be in good spirits, according to local officials.
Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-San Pedro, along with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, toured the temporary shelter on Thursday, May 6, and said in a briefing following the visit that they were pleased with what they saw.
Members of the public and the media were not allowed on the tour, a policy that officials with the facility’s operator, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have said is intended to protect the well-being of the kids.
And Barragán, Garcia and Mitchell all said that emphasis on well-being was clear.
“Like many of you, I’m a mom. I’m a parent,” Mitchell said. “I just kind of intuitively have a concern when I think about kids in a congregate setting, right? That’s not where kids should be.
“But,” she added, “what we saw here today relieved all of that concern and apprehension.”
The elected officials said the kids were happy and proud to introduce themselves to the group.
Mitchell said that while she was aware of the poverty and violence that many of the children fled in Central America, she “didn’t see evidence of that” in their demeanors.
“I think they’re probably relieved to be in that space,” Mitchell said, “and they understand the process they’re going through.”
Still, Barragán, who serves as the chairwoman of the U.S. House Homeland Border Security Subcommittee, said the stories of some of the children spoke for themselves, including the experiences of a young boy she spoke to who was from Honduras.
“When you asked him about the conditions in Honduras, he immediately — his face went from a smiling face to very serious and sad,” Barragán said. “He told you about the violence in Honduras. He told you the maras (gang members) that they’re afraid of in Honduras, and the fact that his parents are still there. But he has an uncle here.
“So when you talk to these kids, and I talked to a group of young girls — I asked them about their experience in Border Patrol versus here,” she added, “and they all immediately, in unison, said how much better things are for them here.”
But Barragán, along with Mitchell and Garcia, also emphasized the importance of uniting these children with their family members and sponsors as quickly as possible.
Even though the children are being well cared for, Barragán said, “at the end of the day, kids are better off with their families and with family members than in a facility like this.”
To that end, HHS officials have set a goal of uniting kids with family members or sponsors within seven-to-10 days of entering the facility. While that goal has not yet been met, Barragán said, her understanding is that progress is being made on that front.
So far, 20 children have been united with family members or sponsors, Barragán said, and 20 more are set to be released by the end of the week. By the end of next week, she said, that number will grow to 100.
“The reality is that it’s a matter of finding a sponsor,” she said, “making sure the sponsor is qualified and getting all their paperwork in order — and some of these sponsors are cross-country.”
Barragán said she was told that of the children who have been released so far, only one remained in California.
Still, she said, the idea of unifying kids with family members or sponsors in 10 days or fewer “is a goal that we’ve got to keep pushing to see if we can meet.”
Another area of focus for the elected officials was the treatment of children who have tested positive for coronavirus. But, they said, the testing and medical care in the facility, which is being provided by UCLA, appears to be working well.
So far, 55 of the kids have tested positive for COVID-19, Barragán said, and 75% of them received their positive test upon arrival. Those who have the virus are being isolated in a safe manner, she said.
And Garcia noted that of those 55 kids, only one has shown symptoms.
Thursday’s visit was part of a broader federal effort to ensure transparency and accountability at the temporary migrant shelters that have popped up in Long Beach and other cities — mainly in Texas and, now, California — as a surge of unaccompanied minors have sought to cross the southern border, fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
In March, border authorities encountered 18,890 unaccompanied minors — a 100% increase from February and an all-time monthly high. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not yet released data for April.
The Long Beach shelter opened last month and will stay open until Aug. 2. It can house up to 1,000 children and is mostly being used for girls who are at least 5 years old, but HHS officials have said the agency will cap the number at 800 to monitor coronavirus cases.
Barragán’s tour came two weeks after her congressional colleague, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, explored the site on the day it opened. Children had not yet made it to the shelter at that point, but Lowenthal said at the time that it was clear that they would be treated humanely.
He said at the time that he was proud of the site, particularly after having toured detention facilities along the border a few times in prior presidential administrations.
“They were no place for” adults, let alone children, he said. “They were cramped together. They were in cages.”
Unlike in those facilities, Lowenthal said, the Long Beach Convention Center transformed into a place where kids can feel welcome.
“I’ve never been more proud of my city than I am today,” he said, “with what it’s doing to step up in this crisis.”
Barragán, Mitchell and Garcia, on Thursday, seemed to agree with Lowenthal’s assessment.
“I was so proud to see the government at work in a profound and meaningful way,” Mitchell said. “To see what they were able to set up in a short period of time, and to work seamlessly, collaboratively to set up what we saw to meet the needs of every child there was impressive, and I think they’ve all done a phenomenal job.”
Source: Orange County Register