Long Beach Convention Center will be used to house unaccompanied migrant children in coming weeks. Your burning questions, answered.

Around 60 gathered outside Long Beach City Hall on Tuesday, April 6 to protest the proposed conversion of the Long Beach Convention Center into a federally-run emergency shelter site that would hold unaccompanied migrant children. (Kristen Farrah Naeem | Signal Tribune)

In the coming weeks, the Long Beach Convention Center will be used to house unaccompanied migrant children, as unanimously approved by the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, April 6 during a special meeting. 

“We all know that right now, we have a massive humanitarian challenge that is happening across the border,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “We also know that these are children, and these are kids. And our focus needs to be to ensure that these kids—that are minors—that are here for a variety of reasons at no fault of their own. They need our help.”

Long Beach received the request last week from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

City officials stressed that the program is temporary, with a firm end date of August 2, 2021. 

The goal of the program is family reunification. Federal agencies have already identified family members or sponsors for each child who arrives in Long Beach. 

A maximum of 1000 children will be held at the convention center on a rolling basis. The site will be run by a number of collaborating federal agencies. Police Chief Robert Luna said that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will not be present in Long Beach. 

“We must do everything in our power to help. This is our moral responsibility. These are children and they did not come here on their own volition.”

—Councilmember Cindy Allen, who represents District 1,
where the Long Beach Convention Center is located.

Executive Director of Long Beach Forward James Suazo joined together with 41 grassroots and community organizations to submit a statement to affirm the City’s values and denounce the incarceration of children and continued criminalization of migrants. He urged the City to close the center within 90 days and to reunite all children with their families in an expeditious manner.

“We cannot support the expansion of detention facilities, incarceration of children and the continued criminalization of immigrants,” Suazo said. “We must remember that this unfortunate situation is the result of our federal leaders failing to address the root causes of children arriving unaccompanied.”

Over 19,000 unaccompanied migrant children were taken into custody by United States Border Patrol agents just last month, Deputy City Manger Reginald Harrison said.

Last month, NBC News reported that many migrants are sending their children across the border alone to increase their chances of remaining in the country.

“I can’t even begin to imagine the desperation it takes for a parent to leave their child,” said Councilmember Cindy Allen, her voice shaking. “We must do everything in our power to help. This is our moral responsibility. These are children and they did not come here on their own volition. We need to get them reunited with their families and their caregivers as soon as possible.”

The migrant children that arrive in Long Beach will be transferred from a variety of facilities along the southern border.

In the coming days, the City will set up a web page for community organizations, nonprofits and residents to lend physical or monetary support. Community organizations are expected to play an important role in providing wraparound services, including mental health care, medical care and education services. 

Representatives from Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College and the Long Beach Unified School District reached out to offer their services to facilitate the educational needs of incoming children. 

The experiences of immigrants and refugee children are often fraught with trauma, even if that suffering is hidden or unacknowledged,” LBUSD Board Member Megan Kerr said. “When you arrive after a harrowing journey, involving weeks, if not months, or years of violence, upheaval and marginalization… and that’s on top of the difficult circumstances that often prompt decisions to migrate in the first place.”

Many questions still remain about how the program will play out. Here’s what we know.

Will the arrival of unaccompanied migrant children affect the vaccination efforts at the Long Beach Convention Center? No. Vaccination efforts at the Long Beach Convention Center will continue as usual, according to Deputy City Manager Reginald Harrison.

When will the unaccompanied migrant children arrive? Mayor Robert Garcia said that things will move quickly. Children could arrive at the convention center as early as next week, though there is no official date yet. 

Will all of these children have sponsors or family members identified before coming to Long Beach? Yes. The children have all identified family members in the United States or sponsors, according to Deputy City Manager Reginald Harrison. HHS will confirm those relationships and make contact with families, many of whom live in states across the country. 

Does the City of Long Beach support United States immigration policy? Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said that he will work with the Federal Legislation Committee to discuss the topic. He said, “We don’t support child detention.”

Are Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents going to be present in Long Beach during this process? Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said that, if the City follows the same model as San Diego, ICE will have no local involvement in the process. City officials are looking to San Diego as a model for the program, as they recently opened up a similar facility. 

How many children will be housed at the Long Beach Convention Center? A maximum of 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children will be housed at the convention center on a rolling basis, according to Deputy City Manager Reginald Harrison. This number will comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations that require 60 square feet of space per child and one staff member for every eight children. 

Who is going to run the facility? The facility will be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal department of Health and Human Services. The two federal agencies will partner with Los Angeles County. There will also be opportunities for local community groups to provide services. 

How transparent is this process going to be? Will we get to see what the facility looks like? Assistant City Manager Linda Tatum said that the City will assign a point person that will handle all communications regarding the facility. City officials referenced that members of the media and local community organizations will be given tours of the facility before it opens. “We should absolutely ensure that these facilities are quality and are places that are focused on the child,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.

What’s security going to look like in terms of the Long Beach Convention Center? Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said that the police department is still figuring that out. If Long Beach follows the model of other cities, federal agencies will be responsible for securing the interior, inner perimeter and outer perimeter of the building. Local police will only be involved if there is a call for an emergency. 

Is this going to affect conventions later this year? No. The program has a hard end date of August 2, 2021, as conventions have already been booked at the convention center. The convention center is currently vacant and available for this use. 

Is this going to cost the city a ton of money? No. All of the costs associated with the facility are eligible for reimbursement from the federal government. 

Are my tax dollars being used for this? Yes. Councilmember Suzie Price pointed out that, though the children will be housed in Long Beach, they would be housed somewhere whether or not Long Beach accepted the federal government’s proposal to house them in the convention center. 

Is this basically a prison? The main purpose of this facility is to act as an intermediary location as federal agencies connect unaccompanied migrant children with family members and sponsors. The children will remain in the facility for the duration of their stay, Robert Garcia said, where they will have access to recreation areas and educational areas within the space.

What happens now that the council has approved the use of the Long Beach Convention Center to house unaccompanied migrants? City Attorney Charles Parkin said that ASM Global, who runs the convention center, and federally-run Health and Human Services (HHS) will enter into negotiations to come to an agreement on the timeline and logistics of the plan.

How do I help? Can I send money or volunteer? The City of Long Beach will release a website with information on how residents can contribute physical or monetary assistance in the coming days. Community organizations and nonprofits will be able to offer their services to contract with federal agencies through this website as well.

Update: Tuesday, April 6 at 8:28 p.m.—Quotes from city officials and resident public comments were added to this story. Update: Wednesday, April 8, 3:48 p.m.—This story was updated to reflect that 41 community organizations denounced the criminalization and incarceration of migrant children.


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