SAN DIEGO (CN) – In a bipartisan effort, San Diego County’s mostly Republican Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday on a handful of measures to temporarily house asylum-seekers, including asking the state to reimburse local government for footing the bill.
The board voted on a motion brought by freshman supervisor Nathan Fletcher and veteran Greg Cox to continue pursuing armories or state properties – with the assistance of the Governor’s Office – as locations to temporarily shelter migrants in addition to establishing a taskforce of local, state and federal elected officials to address short-term and long-term solutions.
The supervisors also approved exploring county property to house migrants as well as working with the state to seek funding and reimbursement for migrant services the county is already providing.
Since late October, immigration authorities have released thousands of legally-admitted, asylum-seeking families in San Diego without food, shelter or transportation to their final destinations, where family members already in the U.S. are sponsoring them while they wait for their asylum cases to be decided.
In response, a local coalition of nonprofit organizations – known as the San Diego Rapid Response Network, including Jewish Family Service and the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties – has provided a shelter for asylum-seekers who are typically only in San Diego for 24 or 48 hours before taking Greyhound buses or flying to be reunited with family elsewhere in the U.S.
The nonprofits have raised about $600,000 from foundations and individual donors, while the county has provided nurses to administer vaccinations and conduct health assessments to 1,600 of the 4,500 asylum-seekers the nonprofit coalition has helped since last November, Jewish Family Service CEO Michael Hopkins told Courthouse News.
But Hopkins said the shelter is on its fifth location, which must be vacated in February – and a new location has not yet been identified. But the nonprofits are hopeful Governor Gavin Newsom will announce help from the state soon.
In his inauguration speech Monday, Newsom spoke about his trip to San Diego last year in which he visited a migrant shelter. During that visit, Newsom called the state’s allocation of $500,000 to fund case management services for migrants “insufficient,” vowing to “increase the investment” in his first budget as governor. That budget is expected within a week. But Newsom added, “If the state is going to do more, local government is going to have to do more.”
During the debate before the board vote Tuesday, some supervisors suggested that since the local government did not cause the migrant problem, San Diego should not be funding solutions to it.
Supervisor Kristin Gaspar – an outspoken critic of California’s sanctuary state law – pointed out she sent two letters to former Governor Jerry Brown’s office last year to request assistance with food, shelter, transportation, medical care and case management for the asylum-seeking families in San Diego, only to get what she called Tuesday a “bureaucratic no.”
Supervisor Dianne Jacob said that she was “sympathetic” to the asylum-seekers’ “quest to seek a better life,” but remained more concerned about providing resources to San Diego’s growing homeless veteran population.
“This is a federal issue,” Jacob said. “I believe our priority should be to take care of our own first. When we talk about spending county resources and staff time, it’s all about priorities. I think we do have a potential health crisis. But we need to push hard on the federal government to reimburse the county because it is not a problem of our making.”
Fletcher retorted that while he agreed, “We should take care of our own, when you’re in America and have legal status, I believe that makes you our own.”
Many speakers and supervisors worried about a potential public health crisis if asylum-seekers with communicable diseases were not medically screened and given vaccinations and treatment.
San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency Director Nick Macchione said nine cases of chicken pox have been reported since October, when the county has previously averaged about two cases a year, raising concerns about a potential outbreak linked to unvaccinated asylum-seekers.
One speaker at the meeting said she had hosted an asylum-seeking family with a child who had been diagnosed with chicken pox, exposing her family and her child’s preschool to the disease.
The hepatitis A outbreak that caused more than 500 cases of the disease and 20 deaths in San Diego in 2017 was cited multiple times at Tuesday’s meeting as a reason the county should provide shelter for the asylum-seekers while it works with the state to identify funding and semi-permanent housing locations.
Attendees at the meeting also raised concerns that asylum-seekers not granted temporary shelter and transportation assistance would end up on the streets, possibly overburdening homeless shelters in San Diego. The city already has the fourth largest homeless population in the country.
The migrant taskforce is expected to give an update to the board on progress it has made to address shelter concerns in San Diego in 90 days.