San Diego County Opens Old Courthouse to Shelter Migrants

SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego County, often the first U.S. stop for asylum-seeking families who make their way to sponsors across the country, will allow an old courthouse to be used as a temporary shelter while it waits on the state and federal government to put up funds to address the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to let the San Diego Rapid Response Network use an old family court in downtown to temporarily house asylum-seeking families once they are released by immigration authorities on San Diego streets.

The rapid response network stepped up to temporarily house migrant families this past October and help to arrange travel plans for them to stay with family members and sponsors across the country while their asylum cases make their way through immigration court.

The nonprofit has provided humanitarian and transportation services to 5,200 migrants, who are typically only in San Diego for 24 to 48 hours before traveling to stay with family members and sponsors.

Previously, Immigration and Customs Enforcement helped arrange travel plans for families who passed credible fear interviews and were found to have legitimate asylum claims. But the federal government abandoned its Safe Release program this past October, leaving nonprofit providers and local governments to pick up the task of making sure families get to their final destinations in the U.S. and don’t end up homeless.

Board of Supervisors chair Dianne Jacob said the federal government’s decision to end the Safe Release program has had an impact on county resources. She has consulted with county counsel about suing the Trump administration to reimburse the county for footing the bill to make sure asylum-seekers can safely travel to their sponsors.

Jacob said the potential lawsuit will be discussed at the board’s next closed session meeting. 

The Board of Supervisors has also asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to use state armories as migrant shelters, but he has not responded to their request. Former Gov. Jerry Brown had previously denied San Diego’s request to use armories before he left office.

In the meantime, the county agreed Tuesday to lease the old courthouse for $1 to Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is part of the network and has secured funding to run the shelter.

The lease runs through the end of the year, as the old courthouse is earmarked to be turned into affordable housing in 2020.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephen, Sheriff Bill Gore and Mayor Kevin Faulconer, all Republicans, support the shelter, saying it was critical for public health and safety.

State Assemblyman Todd Gloria and National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis also supported the vote.

In a letter to the board, Stephen said vehicles had been seen prowling a downtown bus station where families had been dropped off and that the driver of one car had convinced a family to get in the vehicle with him until “a Rapid Response Team volunteer intervened and pulled the family out of the vehicle.” Stephen said the families of mostly women and children are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.

The county, which provides public health services, has also paid for eight full-time medical professionals to provide health screening, vaccination and pharmacy services to the migrant families at the SDRRN shelter. The price tag is estimated at $400,000 for the medical services provided so far, according to Jacob.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said county staff had estimated the total cost of medical services to migrant families to balloon to $4 million for 2019, and suggested the state and federal government should be picking up the tab, not San Diego County.

He cast the dissenting vote.

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