LA County Fairgrounds Set to Welcome Refugee Children

The unaccompanied children arriving in Los Angeles County over the weekend hail from Central America and range between the ages of 7 and 14.

Cots and stuffed animals await unaccompanied immigrant children at a temporary emergency shelter at the Pomona Fairplex in Los Angeles County. Some 250 children will arrive at the facility on May 1. (Courthouse News photo / Nathan Solis)

POMONA, Calif. (CN) — Two-hundred fifty unaccompanied immigrant children from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries are set to arrive at a temporary emergency shelter in Los Angeles County on Saturday.

The Pomona Fairplex is the second LA County location to welcome unaccompanied children feeling violence, poverty and other conflicts from their home countries.

“These children have endured abuse, persecution, deep poverty and violence and they are simply seeking refuge,” LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said during a tour of the facility on Friday. “Like so many of our ancestors, they come to this country seeking a better way of life and hope.”

The children that will arrive are between the ages of 7 and 14 according to Solis.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say they will try to reunite children with a parent or family sponsor in the U.S. within 7 to 10 days. Some cases may take longer, but the goal is to ensure that children do not stay in the facilities for more than 14 days.

Since taking office earlier this year, the Biden administration has wrestled with a spike in immigrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. States across U.S. have welcomed the unaccompanied children at emergency shelters where officials stress a completely different approach than that of the Trump administration’s handling of immigrants.

“As a member of the House of Representatives, we have been to a lot of these facilities over the past four years — over and over and over again,” said U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez at the Pomona facility. “This one is completely different. For one you can see the sky.”

U.S. Rep Judy Chu said facilities operated during the Trump administration were like “grim prisons” where children languished for months at a time, and were condemned by immigrant advocacy groups. But at Pomona there is buy-in from both local government agencies and the advocacy groups who will make sure that interpreters can speak for the children in Spanish and other Indigenous languages.

LA County health agencies and Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with the Pomona School District and other partners, will provide medical and mental health services. Children will be able to play on multiple soccer fields or learn in a classroom setting.

“To come here and see such a contrast is really something,” Chu said when comparing the previous administration’s treatment of immigrant children. “We are in a whole new period now.”

Along with Pomona, the city of Long Beach and San Diego County are also operating temporary emergency shelters for children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

Angelica Salas from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights toured the Pomona facility Friday and said this is an opportunity to make sure these children are not further traumatized.

“This will be an example to the nation that this can be a welcoming community,” said Salas, adding the facility is the next best thing to addressing a “broken immigration system.”

Children will be arriving from federal facilities in Yuma, Arizona, and Rio Grande, Texas, by bus on Saturday. LA County has the capacity to accept up to 2,500 children. Roughly 80% of the children have a sponsor already in the U.S. and many are in communication with their family members, according to federal officials.

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