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Lawmakers ‘pleased’ with shelter for migrant children at Fairplex in Pomona



The shelter where 280 migrant children are temporarily housed at Fairplex in Pomona is in good condition, according to a congressional delegation that toured the emergency intake center Friday, May 7.

Five representatives from Southern California, including Rep. Norma J. Torres, D-Pomona, said they were were reassured by what they saw inside the shelter at a news conference immediately after their tour.

Torres, along with Reps. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, Mark Takano, D-Riverside, Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, and Sara Jacobs, D-San Diego, interacted and spoke with some of the children, hearing about their journey across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This congressional delegation can confirm that these efforts far meet our values as a caring and compassionate community, state and nation,” Torres said at the news conference. “This facility is a reflection of our long standing values in Pomona, and I have every expectation that it will deliver the quality of care that these kids deserve.”

Torres said she intends to visit the Fairplex shelter once a week for the next six weeks, “to make sure nothing changes.”

Children who crossed the border alone began making their way from detention centers in San Diego and Yuma, Arizona, this past weekend. Federal officials seek to unite the children with families in the U.S. or sponsors.

On Friday, the congressional delegation in Pomona thanked the Biden administration for its commitment to making sure conditions at Fairplex, one of three temporary shelters in Southern California, are as safe and caring as possible. Aguilar, Bass and Takano noted the stark contrast in current policies governing the centers compared to the previous administration’s management of federal detention centers.

“I was pleased to see that the Biden administration is continuing to operate from a place of compassion and responsibility to make sure these young migrants and asylum seekers are cared for,” Aguilar said.

Bass, who serves on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees in the House of Representatives, said she sees a “world of difference” at intake centers now compared to visits to facilities under the Trump administration, where she said “children were used as pawns.”

“To spend a couple of minutes talking to the children who across the board were so happy to be here and clearly being cared for, it’s an honor to be here,” Bass said.

Members of the public and media were not allowed on the tour, per a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy that officials say is needed to protect the privacy of unaccompanied minors. Elected officials toured an intake center in Long Beach on Thursday and praised conditions there as well.

Friday’s visit at Fairplex comes days after news surfaced that 14 children tested positive for the coronavirus, though none showed symptoms of the illness. Two more children had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to HHS Regional Director Bonnie Preston.

Preston said all children are required to wear masks during their stay at Fairplex and will be assigned socially distanced cots.

As of Thursday, two children have been reunited with a parent or sponsor in the U.S., according to Torres, noting the HHS goal to reunite children and their families within two weeks of their arrival.

Upon initial intake, children at the center disclose information about their relatives or sponsors with case managers, which then initiates the verification process for sponsors.

Up to 2,500 children who have traveled alone across the U.S.-Mexico border may be housed at Fairplex under an agreement with HHS as the agency attempts to find more permanent placements for them.

Of the 280 children at Fairplex as of Friday, 16% are from Guatemala, 30% from Honduras, 5% from El Salvador, and 5% from other countries, Torres said.

In an effort to coordinate community support, Fairplex has set up a fund through the Pomona Community Foundation – the Esperanza Fund – which will help cover the direct needs of the children, such as reunification packages for children who are safely released to a family member, sponsor, or those transferred to a longer term shelter.

Details are still being worked out for a partnership with the Pomona Economic Opportunity Fund, a local nonprofit that works with the migrant community, that would collect in-kind goods for the children, according to Fairplex officials.

These efforts are complemented by community members who have reached out to help in various ways, from toy donations to shoe drives to providing haircuts for the children, Mayor Tim Sandoval said by phone this week.

“There’s been an outpouring of people that have reached out this past week asking, ‘How can I help?’ We are currently working on finding a safe and appropriate way to make this happen,” he added.

The city of Pomona, along with HHS officials and Fairplex, are expected to host two town halls, one in Spanish and one in English, in the coming weeks for community members with questions or concerns about the temporary facility, Sandoval said. Details have yet to be announced.

Source: Orange County Register

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