Nearly 1,500 kids have been unified with family from Long Beach migrant shelter

More than 150 migrant children were unified with family members or sponsors from the shelter at the Long Beach Convention Center this week, as the temporary facility inches closer to its end date.

City data released Friday morning, July 16, showed that 1,439 children have moved through shelter and into more stable housing since the facility opened in April — an increase of 159 children since last week.

The total number of minors who remain in the shelter, meanwhile, dropped to 105, down from 307 last week. Schuyler Hall, the on-site spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, declined to comment Friday, July 16, on the fact that 43 children left the facility and were not unified with family members or sponsors. But last week, Hall said some children were being transferred to other sites as officials wind down operations at the Long Beach facility ahead of its Aug. 2 closure date.

“All efforts are being made to safely release children to sponsors or transfer them to other (Office of Refugee Resettlement) care providers as quickly as possible,” Hall said in an email last week. “We are still maintaining the full integrity of our background check process.”

Federal officials tapped the Convention Center earlier this year as a temporary migrant shelter, along with several other facilities across the country — mostly in California and Texas — as an influx of children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America made their way to the border without a parent.

The Long Beach facility — housing mostly girls who are at least 5 years old — is one of two operating in Los Angeles County, with the other one at the Pomona Fairplex. The Long Beach shelter provides the children with medical care, education and recreational opportunities. The facility can house up to 1,000 children, though federal officials have kept the population below that so they can more easily monitor coronavirus cases. The shelter, which HHS operates, had two coronavirus-positive children on Friday, city data shows.

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The Long Beach shelter’s impending closure comes amid signs in recent months that the surge of unaccompanied minors may be ebbing at bit — though there was a slight uptick in June.

Federal authorities encountered 15,253 unaccompanied minors at the southern border in June, up from 14,137 in May. In April, border authorities encountered 17,144, data from U.S. Border and Customs Protection shows. And in March, they encountered 18,877 minors — double February’s count and an all-time monthly high.

City officials have emphasized, though, that Aug. 2 is a hard closure date for the Convention Center shelter and operations there will not be extended. When the facility was first announced, Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Steve Goodling said the facility made sense for a temporary shelter because summer conventions at the site had already been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

“So with the vacant Convention Center, absolutely we should have the opportunity to assist in a humanitarian effort,” he said in an April phone interview, “because it is not economically harming the Convention Center or the city.”

Long Beach’s contract with the federal government includes the Aug. 2 closure date, which means HHS will vacate the site in time for the Graphics Pro Expo, which has long been on the books, on Aug. 12.

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