The Pomona Fairplex will temporarily house 2,500 unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, possibly “in a matter of days,” L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis announced Friday.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure these young people are transitioned out of the Fairplex and either reunited with their families here in the United States or with a loving sponsor who can care for them,” Solis said.
Bonnie Preston, acting regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the goal is for children to only stay at intake facilities for 30 to 35 days at the most. While needs may change, most of the children who will be housed at the Fairplex are between the ages of 12 and 17.
She said a majority of the unaccompanied children arriving at the border come with names and phone numbers of sponsors in the U.S. to show border patrol agents after turning themselves over.
However, before a child can be placed, the sponsor has to “be vetted, and it takes time,” Preston said.
In some cases, if the sponsor doesn’t seem like a safe option, the children end up staying in HHS custody in a long-term care facility that provides additional services, including county services to find a non-relative guardianship or foster placement, according to Preston.
Officials have not yet fully executed the contract to create the shelter at the Pomona Fairplex, according to Solis, but the Fairplex and L.A. County are making preparations for children to arrive “in a matter of days.”
At similar facilities, children are tested for COVID-19 before being transported to the shelter and tested again at arrival, Preston said. The facility’s managers create three separate groups: COVID-19 negative, COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 exposed. The groups are housed separately from each other, but Preston said those details still have to be worked out for the Fairplex site. Solis noted later that children will receive regular COVID-19 tests throughout the time they’re housed at the facility.
Additional details about where children will be housed on the Fairplex property and what the shelter will look like have not been figured out yet, officials said, but Solis noted that they are looking to San Diego’s Convention Center as a model. At that facility, she said, each child has an individual cot and receives COVID-19 tests and case management. She also said the children at the Fairplex will likely be separated by age and will have nursing care.
The county’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Departments of Children and Family Services, Public Health, Health Services and Mental Health “will be activated to support the migrant youth in their transition,” Solis said.
Solis said she received a call from the White House and “I knew without question that it was our time to step up, as Los Angeles County always does.”
The U.S. currently has more than 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children in custody, CNN reported Wednesday, citing the latest government data. More than 16,000 of them are in Department of Health and Human Services’ custody, and about 4,200 are in the custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“These are young people who are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, seeking asylum and refuge in the United States to escape the conditions brought upon them through no fault of their own,” Solis said Friday.
“For a mother to send her child unaccompanied on a dangerous journey proves how dire this situation is. They’re risking their lives, just like many other immigrants throughout our nation’s history.”
Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval said that when the White House reached out to him to say that the Fairplex was being considered as a shelter site, he had questions because of what he’d heard about the conditions in sites run by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“I wanted assurances that the children were going to be taken care of to the highest degree … and I wanted to know that the Fairplex site was intended to be used as part of a plan to reunify children with their families.”
He said that local nonprofits will be working with Health and Human Services to provide services to the children.
Interim CEO of the Pomona Fairplex, Walter Marquez, similarly said that the Fairplex’s board was concerned about the safety of the children. He added that the board’s priority is ensuring that the “safety, the well being and the self-dignity of every child is maintained while they are on our grounds.”
Solis praised the Fairplex for adapting to changing conditions in the U.S., as in the last year it has served as a COVID-19 testing site, vaccination site and daycare center.
Fairplex will become the second site in Los Angeles County to temporarily house unaccompanied minors arriving at U.S.-Mexico border, joining the Long Beach Convention Center under a proposal unanimously approved by the Long Beach City Council Tuesday.