Board of Supervisors approves using old court house for asylum seekers

Board of Supervisors approves using old court house for asylum seekers

Originally Published in The Los Times.


JAN 29, 2019   

Board of Supervisors approves using old court house for asylum seekers
A father and daughter from Guatemala walk through a temporary shelter in late November 2018. Organized by the San Diego Rapid Response Network, the shelter opened in October to offer food, water, shelter, medical care and other services to migrants being processed for asylum. (John Gastaldo/The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

After months of uncertainty, a local group of nonprofits has finally found a more stable home for one of the few shelters that serves asylum-seeking families.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 4-1 to lease the old family courthouse downtown to the San Diego Rapid Response Network for $1, to become a shelter for asylum seekers until the end of the year. Under terms of the lease, Jewish Family Services, one of the network groups, will be responsible for the costs of opening, operating, and maintaining the facility.

“I’m proud of the Rapid Response Network, the county, the state for stepping up and addressing this issue,” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Services. “Immigration is a bit of a hot potato, but for all of us this is about families and making sure they’re safe and secure.”

The vacant building has been scheduled for demolition and redevelopment as affordable housing, but county officials say leasing it to the network will not interfere with its proposed development.

The decision comes three weeks after supervisors approved a series of measuresexploring ways to address the asylum issue. The new shelter also removes uncertainty for asylum-seekers, because the San Diego Rapid Response Network’s shelter has moved several times.

In October the federal government ended a program that used to connect asylum seekers with their sponsors and family members already in the United States. This change led to asylum seekers being processed by ICE and then they often were stranded in communities such as San Diego, where they waited, often with few resources, for the legal process to play out.

The San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of more than two dozen nonprofits, responded by setting up a shelter for migrant families. But since last fall the shelter has been forced to move multiple times.

The group is required to vacate its current space by Feb. 15.

In another development, Tuesday was the first day the Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy went into effect. That policy forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claim works its way through the legal process.

Hopkins, and members of the Board of Supervisors, said they expect that policy will soon face a legal challenge and possible injunction.

Meanwhile, the shelter’s new location will have around-the-clock security, Hopkins said. That was a point of concern that led to secrecy about the shelter’s prior locations.

The shelter is meant to be temporary for asylum-seekers with sponsors; typically they leave the shelter in less than 72 hours. There is another shelter, run by Safe Harbors, that is more long term and caters to asylum seekers who don’t have sponsors.

The Rapid Response Network also will seek options for where its shelter will go after Dec. 31.

“It’s a good day,” County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said after the vote. “The county of San Diego is stepping up and showing leadership to not only address the asylum issue with compassion and humanity, but also to ensure public safety, public health, and that we do not compound the homeless situation.”

The shelter proposal received majority support from county supervisors after it was proposed by Supervisor Greg Cox and Fletcher and then backed by San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who voted against the motion, said his issue was not with the shelter but with a lack of commitment by the state to address the migrant issue and help bear the cost of providing medical personnel and health screenings to migrants.

“What I am not okay with is today’s action leaves that entire burden still on San Diego County taxpayers,” Desmond said. “I understand there are things in the works… and there are assurances from the state, but I do not have that in front of me today.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently proposed budget would allocate $20 million over three years to fund a “rapid response network” to provide services during immigration or human trafficking emergency situations. Newsom also has asked the legislature to approve spending $5 million on the issue by the end of the fiscal year, in June.

Simultaneous to the county supervisors’ meeting, the Assembly Budget Committee met Tuesday and recommended an immediate allocation from state funding be made toward a migrant shelter.

County Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Dianne Jacob, who both opposed seeking out county properties as potential shelter locations during a vote earlier this month,voted in favor of approving the shelter Tuesday.

Gaspar said that she had been concerned about the county having to fill a role that should be done by the state and federal government. She added that she would not support a similar action again, come Dec. 31.

Meanwhile Jacob, chair of the board, emphasized that asylum seekers are here legally and it is important for public health and safety to support the shelter.

She also said that it is the right thing to do, and announced that she will be putting an item on the board’s next closed session agenda to explore possible litigation against the federal government related to the issue.

The intent of the litigation, she said, would be “to get the federal government to do its job in this area and to reimburse the county and all of the other entities that have put money out on an issue that is a federal responsibility.”


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