Advocates are still struggling to shelter asylum seekers once they arrive in San Diego

Gustavo Solis Contact Reporter

The federal government plans to release 174 asylum-seeking migrants from a detention center to San Diego but volunteers don’t have enough beds for them, according to emergency shelter operators.

“We’re scrambling,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial counties.

The San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of non-profits, religious and humanitarian organizations including the ACLU, has two emergency shelters with enough room for 134 migrants in San Diego.

They have 44 people in the shelters, so that leaves 94 spaces for 174 people.

Rapid Response Network volunteers, including Chavez-Peterson, are trying to find additional space for the asylum-seekers.

“Nobody wants people to be in the streets,” Chavez-Peterson said.

Volunteers spoke with civic and religious leaders in San Diego, Imperial Beach, and Chula Vista to try to find a more permanent shelter — either a vacant storefront, recreation space, event hall or anything with room to house people for a day or two.

They are also considering asking volunteers who have been vetted to house migrants in their homes.

It’s unclear why Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to release 174 migrants into San Diego late Thursday. Organizers in San Diego said the number of asylum-seekers released changes on a daily basis.

Federal authorities released 100 people on Wednesday and 50 on Tuesday, according to the Rapid Response Network.

This practice of dropping off migrants in bus stops began in October, after the federal government stopped giving vetted migrants time to make travel arrangements so they can stay with family members in the United States until their immigration cases are resolved. Instead, migrants are released from detention without finalizing travel arrangements and are left to fend for themselves.

The same situation is playing out at other busy border ports of entry.

On Christmas Day in El Paso, federal immigration officers released hundreds asylum-seeking migrants. Churches and non-profits scrambled to find food and shelter for them.

Volunteers in San Diego claim all of the migrants who were in federal custody, some of whom entered the country illegally, are cold and hungry when they are released.

“All complain about the freezing temperature and inhumane conditions while in Border Patrol custody,” the Rapid Response Network wrote in a statement. “Most spend 3-5 days on Border Patrol holding cells that are not intended for detention.”

Doctors at the emergency shelters send immigrants to the emergency room on a daily basis. The report seeing a woman coughing up blood, multiple children dehydrated, half a dozen chicken pox cases and a lot of upper respiratory complications during health screenings, Chavez-Peterson said.

This month, two Central American children died after being in federal custody. In the most recent case, an 8-year-old boy who had crossed the border illegally with his father died after being diagnosed with a cold and fever.

The Rapid Response Network tried to sound the alarm on Dec. 5, when they asked local and regional government officials for help securing a permanent shelter. At the time, volunteers said that without a permanent shelter, immigrant families would be on their own in the streets of San Diego.

The network said operating the shelter costs $300,000 a month. They have raised $125,555 online since Nov. 15. That money helps pay for staffing, security, maintenance and transportation costs.

On Dec. 20, the county provided staff to help deliver medical and public health services, according to the Rapid Response Network.

In November, the state’s Department of Social Services began providing support staff to help run the emergency shelter.

The Rapid Response Network has had to relocate the shelters five times in the last nine weeks. Those shelters include church halls or unused event spaces. When churches or organizations need those spaces, the temporary shelter is forced to move.

Volunteers are looking for any type of permanent space, ideally with a kitchen and showers.