Dozens of protestors gathered outside city hall Tuesday calling for transparency and accountability as the Long Beach City Council voted to approve using the Long Beach Convention Center as a temporary shelter to house unaccompanied migrant children coming from overflowing border patrol facilities in the southwest United States.
The unanimous vote will allow the city to begin working with the federal government on establishing the facility as an Emergency Intake Site, which is slated to house about 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children.
Working alongside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Office of Emergency Services, the city plans to use the over 400,000-square-foot arena to house children for a period of up to 120 days as they wait to be reconnected with their families or a U.S. sponsor.
According to the plan, children within the facility will receive basic necessities, including three meals a day, medical and health evaluations, recreation time and educational services. The federal government will be responsible for funding the services, and the program will be of no cost to the city of Long Beach.
“[Children] need our help, and I think the one thing about government, and the one thing at least why I’m in this business, is to do the most good,” Mayor Robert Garcia said during the special meeting.
This comes after the federal government contacted the city of Long Beach for assistance as there has been a recent increase in children crossing the southwest U.S. border unaccompanied by an adult and the Biden administration continues with its plan to reconstruct the immigration system.
“[Immigrants] make up the very fabric of who we are as a community,” Garcia said.
Councilmembers emphasized that the contract with the federal government will focus on family reunification and will expire on Monday, Aug. 2.
“The purpose of this facility is clear, it is not a child prison,” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said.
The council was expected to approve the proposal during Tuesday’s meeting after Garcia expressed his support for the temporary shelter during an interview Monday.
As an immigrant who left his home country of Peru as a child alongside his mother, Garcia personally understands the plight of those that leave their native country in search of a better opportunity. He maintained that this decision is about helping children.
“I know how important is to support all people, especially children,” Garcia said. “This is an opportunity to show our kindness and compassion.”
Long Beach has a long history welcoming and supporting immigrants and refugees. We have been asked by the Biden Administration to assist in welcoming these children as they are reunited with family. We are proud to support our country and these kids. https://t.co/3JbuDCTWP0
— Robert Garcia (@RobertGarcia) April 5, 2021
In 1975, the first wave of Cambodian refugees, who were escaping the Communist Party Khmer Rouge during a civil war, settled Long Beach, creating the largest Cambodian population outside of their home country and contributing to the local economy through their own commercial businesses.
As of 2016, immigrants in Long Beach make up more than 25% of the city’s population, according to a report by New American Economy and the Long Beach Office of Equity. According to the report, immigrants in Long Beach paid more than $1 billion in taxes in 2016 and were responsible for the creation or preservation of more than 5,800 local manufacturing jobs.
Garcia said that Long Beach will work with the federal government to be “engaged in every step of the way” to provide transparency and accountability to the public during this process, something demonstrators asked for during the simultaneous protest outside city hall.
While there was an overwhelming amount of positive support for the shelter during public comment, the rally outside consisted of protestors shouting “shame on you Long Beach” and “Abolish ICE.”
Organized by the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, the rally featured about 100 demonstrators protesting the city’s proposal. Calling on city officials, the group demanded there not be any presence from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or increased police in the city.
Moving forward, the Long Beach Convention Center is set to become the state’s second major site for housing unaccompanied migrant children after San Diego offered its convention center last month.
At this time, there is no exact date for when children will be moving into the facility, though plans will be arranged in the coming days.
Councilwoman Cindy Allen, who motioned to move forward with the plan, said that the children who will be coming to the temporary shelter have already had their families or sponsors located. However, connecting them with their guardians remains one of the logistical concerns for some councilmembers as some parents may be located halfway across the country.
At this time, the council does not know how long the reunification process would take for each child.
“I believe that in all my heart, that this is the right thing to do,” Allen said. “I’m so happy that we can provide safe and temporary shelter for these children.”