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Child Migrant Shelter At The Long Beach Convention Center Closes

Rows of empty cots in the temporary child migrant shelter in the Long Beach Convention Center.
Rows of empty cots in the child migrant shelter in the Long Beach Convention Center.
(Photo by Brittany Murray-Pool/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America)
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An emergency shelter for unaccompanied migrant children at the Long Beach Convention Center has closed its doors two weeks ahead of schedule. According to Long Beach officials, nearly all the children housed there have been reunited with U.S. relatives or sponsors.

In April, the convention center became one of a handful of temporary emergency shelters set up by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for minors detained at the border by immigration officials. The federal contract was scheduled to last through Aug. 2. Another shelter set up at the Pomona Fairplex remains open.

Since the Long Beach shelter opened, 1,538 children have come through the site, according to city officials, and all but about 150 of the kids have been placed in the homes of family members or sponsors. The shelter housed girls under age 17 and boys under age 12.

At a press conference Friday, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the remaining children were not transferred to other shelters, but to smaller “reunification pods,” which he described as “small centers which we have across the country, and here in the greater area where you have small groups of kids.”

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Saying the average shelter stay was about 19 days, Garcia lauded the operation, which included on-site medical care, as a “model” for other similar shelters. He told us Health and Human Services led the efforts on reunification and care for the children.

“We helped them with some of the security, the facility support around the shelter, but all of the services that were directly for the kids were all done through HHS and a variety of partners like UCLA Health, Immigrant Defenders, [and] the team of social workers," Garcia said.

Immigrant Defenders Law Center provided legal services for the children. The group’s attorneys met with children as soon as they arrived to provide “Know Your Rights” training and legal screening, said Law Center Legal Services Director Yliana Johansen-Mendez.

“The children who we saw here have come from long treacherous journeys fleeing violence, fleeing the effects of climate change as hurricanes devastated some of their countries and communities,” said Johansen-Mendez. “They're seeking a better life, many of them joining family members here in the U.S.”

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She added that 90% of the kids at Long Beach were reunited with immediate family members, but that their legal battle to remain in the country is far from over.

“Now that they are with their families, their immigration proceedings are about to begin,” said Johansen-Mendez.

Garcia said the community also played a role in assisting the kids, raising about $250,000 for various programs and other assistance.

“They donated over 130,000 toys and books, built bookshelves, and had a backpack drive,” he said. “Residents in the community were really involved and so I'm just really proud of them.”

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Garcia immigrated to the U.S. when he was 5 with his family and became a U.S. citizen at 21. He said he made a handful of visits to the children over the months and listened to some of their stories.

“As an immigrant myself, every time I've had a chance to be with one of these kids, you just see a little bit of yourself,” he said.

The temporary shelter, including its rows of cots, is being cleared almost immediately. The Long Beach Convention Center is reopening for in-person events mid-August.

HHS is in the process of closing nearly all its child migrant centers across the country. Four shelters will remain open, including the one in Pomona.

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