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Long Beach Convention Center Will Shelter Up To 1,000 Migrant Children. Here's What You Need To Know

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Young unaccompanied migrants, ages 3-9, watch TV inside a playpen at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, March 30, 2021. (Photo by Dario Lopez-Mills/POOL/AFP)
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The Long Beach City Council unanimously approved a plan Tuesday night to convert the city's convention center into a temporary shelter for up to 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children.

The site will be run by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and FEMA. The agencies have already set up similar shelters at convention centers in San Diego and Dallas because of overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the goal will be to reunite children with their family members or sponsors in the U.S. He also made a plea for compassion.

"I think we should focus on the fact that these are kids and children," Garcia said at Tuesday night's city council meeting, "that deserve our love and that deserve a warm welcome to our city, in a place that is going to also be welcoming."

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The city of Long Beach said in a statement that the plan is a response to a request for assistance from the federal government:

"The United States is experiencing a humanitarian situation at our southern border, with a significant number of unaccompanied minors currently housed in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities.

To ensure the safety and well-being of each child, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, has requested assistance from local governments throughout the United States to provide temporary facilities for these children, while the federal government quickly reconnects them with family members or sponsors in the United States. Long Beach specifically has been requested to assist with this humanitarian mission to safely house children who are unattended by their parents."

THE DETAILS

The convention center is currently empty and has been during the pandemic.

But there is an end date to the migrant housing plan. The contract for using the space to house the children expires on Aug. 2. Garcia said in the Fall the center will return to hosting conventions, and staff will need to return to work.

Garcia also emphasized that there will be no cost to the city for the temporary shelter; it's 100% reimbursable by the federal government.

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WILL THE CONDITIONS BE HUMANE?

We spoke with Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center, which represents migrant children. She told us the conditions in Long Beach will be much better than those at the border facilities, where, according to reports from ABC News, children have been sleeping on the floor due to severe overcrowding.

"These kids will be in a congregate care setting, which is really not the ideal situation for children," she said, "but it is so much better than the alternative."

Toczylowski toured a similar shelter at the San Diego Convention Center. She says there may be opportunities for the community to provide crafts and sports gear for the kids. The federal government will handle medical and psychological support. The children will also receive three meals a day.

SUPPORT/OPPOSITION

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The effort has received support from several Long Beach organizations and non-profits, and from Jane Close Conoley, President of Cal State Long Beach, who called it a "human rights effort."

Other supporters include the Long Beach Superintendent of Schools, the pastors of City Church of Long Beach, and the Long Beach NAACP.

As expected, however, not everyone approves of Long Beach opening a child migrant shelter at its convention center. More than 30 immigrant advocates and progressive groups, including the California Immigrant Policy Center, Bend The Arc: Jewish Action Southern California, Puente Latino Association and Occupy ICE LA signed a letter voicing their opposition to the shelter effort.

The letter says the plan fails to "address the root causes of children arriving unaccompanied" by continuing to embrace "imperalist policies that drive people away from their country of origin and treat them inhumanely once they arrive."

They specifically cite President Biden's continued use of the Title 42 policy as a cause for concern. The Trump-era policy allows border security officials to send migrants back across the border without the opportunity to seek asylum. The Biden administration has been criticized for admitting minors while turning away adults and many families.

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The organizations are demanding that the convention center facility be closed in 90 days and that children be reunited with families in a timely manner to minimize potential trauma.

You can read the full letter here.

HOW TO VOLUNTEER

Mayor Garcia said a lot of people have expressed an interest in volunteering at the site when it opens, or helping in some way.

"I think it's great," he said, adding that both individuals and organizations can either donate or apply to help provide food, mental health services, and/or education needs.

Garcia said the city is working with Health and Human Services to set up a volunteer portal with links at the longbeach.gov site "in the days ahead."

Chris Greenspon and Monica Bushman contributed to this story.