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San Diego County Board of Supervisors approves additional $3M for welcome center, migrant services

An initial $3M was approved last October
Posted at 8:13 AM, Dec 06, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday signed off on allocating another $3 million to support the Migrant Welcome Center being run by local nonprofit SBCS to continue to provide services to asylum seekers.

As previously reported, this additional money -- along with the previous $3 million -- comes from American Rescue Plan dollars.

“It’s important to note that we have 700 people average daily coming to the transition center that we’ve created. And this is really a crisis response center,” County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas said.

Vargas also said in a statement on Tuesday:

"As Chairwoman, I recognize the urgency to secure federal funding to address the crisis at our border with a long-term solution. The $3 million allocation put forward by our Board of Supervisors in October ensured that over 40,000 asylum-seekers have been able to get through to their end destination. The health and well-being of our community continues to be my top priority and I appreciate my colleagues’ bipartisan support to offer an immediate solution. While I am grateful to SBCS and local NGOs for providing asylum-seekers with basic resources, this is a federal issue that our County can’t sustain taking on and I implore the federal government to step up.”

After the funding was approved, SBCS CEO Kathryn Lembo issued the following statement:

“We applaud the County of San Diego for this continued investment in a partnership that has provided basic services such as food, toiletries, and through-transportation to more than 30,000 migrants legally processed by Border Patrol since mid-September. Without this continued investment, hundreds of migrants each day would be dropped off in our community without the ability to continue on their journey to their loved ones. SBCS and our partners are uniquely prepared to respond to this need in a way that is responsive and flexible to the rising demand, with low community impact. Thanks to the Board’s decision today, we can continue this work with dignity and care without service disruption.”

Supervisor Joel Anderson, who spearhead the effort with Vargas, said in a statement:

“More than 40,000 street releases in our community over three months carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection is unacceptable. Since the County stepped up to fund the processing center in October, we’ve reduced that number to zero. My constituents in El Cajon do not want the street releases to resume, so I’m grateful to Chairwoman Vargas for partnering with me to continue funding the operation that efficiently processes legal asylum-seekers and moves them onto their onward destination outside of San Diego County.”

There were some local advocates who spoke during public comment for the agenda item supportive of the county’s move to approve this funding and the work being done by SBCS.

Although, there were some with their concerns about the funding while being supportive of putting money towards migrant services and those who are in need of them.

“Not because we don’t think these funds are desperately needed for this population. But because, we do not support an additional allocation of funding while serious funding questions remain about the lack of accountability and transparency of the current contractor SBCS,” one speaker said.

“However, what we’ve seen over the last two months hasn’t been collaborative, transparent and ignores the collective expertise of organizations,” another speaker said.

“So that’s why we raise questions and alarm about how the funding should be used. And open up the possibility that other organizations with the track record might have a better way of placing this money forward,” Pedro Rios, director of American Friends Service Committee, told ABC 10News during the Board of Supervisors’ meeting.

A spokesperson for SBCS told ABC 10News, when asked for comment about the concerns about the accountability of how the county-approved money is being spent, “We are good stewards of every penny the county -- or any government -- has ever given us for 50 years running. We do our work with integrity, accountability, and partnership today as we always have and will continue to do.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who was the lone no vote on allocating this fund, issued the following statement on Tuesday after the vote:

“Just now, the Board of Supervisors approved allocating another $3 million for migrant services. I was the lone "no" vote, as this is no way to run a government. The County has already spent $3 million in local dollars, which ran out in less than three months. Now, more money will be diverted away from county taxpayers. We have seen over 50,000 migrants enter San Diego County since September 13, and there are no signs of this slowing down. Our immigration system is broken, and San Diegans shouldn't have to sacrifice local services because of this breakdown. This situation is unsustainable for our community, both financially and logistically. Migrants entering our country need assistance, but it’s the Federal Government’s responsibility, not the County’s, to fund and provide the necessary resources. The decision to use County funds for non-U.S. Citizens and federal immigration issues with no end in sight is a recipe for disaster.”