SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Convention Center shelter for unaccompanied migrants was expected to reach its 1,450 capacity within days as another group of minors arrived Sunday, federal officials said.
176 new children arrived at the San Diego Convention center on Easter, Carol Fiertz of the United States Department of Health and Human Services confirmed with ABC 10News. They are the younger siblings of the girls who arrived earlier, including some boys between ages 5 and 12. HHS said siblings are kept together and are separated from the general population.
This brings the total number of minors at the Convention Center to 1,353. HHS expects to reach the maximum capacity of 1,450 by this week, and they said they have no plans to go above capacity.
According to HHS and Homeland Security, as of April 4, 2021, there are a total of 14,287 unaccompanied children in HHS care in the United States.
The shelter houses unaccompanied minors who are seeking asylum in the United States. The shelter was set up after an effort by federal, county and city officials to help the humanitarian crisis at the southwest border by providing temporary housing.
The creation of such emergency intake sites is designed to shift the minors -- most of whom are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- more quickly out of U.S. Border Patrol custody while helping to alleviate overcrowding at border holding facilities.
On March 22, city and county officials announced that they would make the convention center available for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use as a temporary shelter for minors up to age 17.
The first group of children arrived March 27. The site will be used for about 90 days, with the average stay for each child averaging 30-35 days, city officials said.
On Sunday, staff and volunteers at the Convention Center held Easter services, and they continue to provide food, medical care, education, and casework services daily.
According to Fiertz, there have been 1,683 COVID tests performed as of Sunday. The 137 children with positive test results have been separated into another wing of the Convention Center. An outdoor recreation area was being used by the children to play.
Fiertz told ABC 10News that caseworkers on-site are handling the logistics of placement after their time in the shelter. At this point, none of the children has been reunited with their families in the United States or their American sponsors. As children transition out, HHS expects more children will arrive until the facility shuts down in July.
The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program are funding the temporary shelter, and additional partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the convention center.
The effort comes as the city and county of San Diego, Regional Task Force on the Homeless and San Diego Housing Commission wound down Operation Shelter to Home, a program hosted at the convention center to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.