Originally Published in The Los Angeles Times.
By Kate Morrissey
January 21, 2019
Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to use state funds to help migrant families arriving at the California border.
Much of the money will likely go to San Diego nonprofits and community organizations, collectively known as the San Diego Rapid Response Network, running a temporary shelter for families released by federal officials after asking for asylum at the southwest border.
In his proposed budget, Newsom allocated $20 million available over three years beginning in July to fund a “rapid response network” to provide services during immigration or human trafficking emergency situations. He is also asking the legislature to approve $5 million in funding to be used before this fiscal year ends in June.
“I went to San Diego and met volunteers providing relief to desperate migrants who others treat like criminals – like the 3-year old girl, just a year older than my youngest, at a shelter who captured my heart,” Newsom said.
In a document detailing the budget ask, the governor’s office also refers specifically to the San Diego shelter.
“The current influx of migrants seeking asylum at the California border with Mexico has strained the capacity and resources of the rapid response network of community-based organizations and nonprofits providing aid,” it says. “Many of the organizations in San Diego that provide emergency shelter and rapid response services indicate that they are at full capacity and need supplemental resources to continue serving this population.”
The Rapid Response Network has been pushing for support from local and state governments for months. The collective opened its temporary shelter after federal immigration officials announced in October that they would no longer help migrant families arrange travel plans with their sponsors across the country before releasing them in San Diego.
About 5,000 migrants have passed through the shelter since it opened, most staying one or two days before traveling on to cities all over the United States. The shelter itself has moved five times since it opened and has yet to find a permanent location.
Both the city and county of San Diego have made some efforts to find a space for the shelter.
The Board of Supervisors voted recently to try to identify a county-owned site to serve the migrant families. It also voted to make a working group to look at long-term solutions to support border arrivals. The county has staffed the current temporary shelter with medical personnel to conduct health screenings.
The city proposed using a closed juvenile detention facility in Alpine, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer touted his office’s efforts in his recent State of the City speech.
“These political games are affecting real people,” Faulconer said. “Look no further than the migrant families that federal immigration agents are dropping off on San Diego’s street corners with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. For months, my administration has been working with nonprofits and our partners at the County and State to provide shelter and prevent this humanitarian crisis from becoming a San Diego crisis.”
The mayor’s office began meeting with the Rapid Response Network about a month and a half ago.
Norma Chávez-Peterson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and Imperial counties, one of the organizations spearheading the network, called the recent attention received by officials “tide-shifting.”
“It’s been a combination of many, many, many different pieces that collectively got aligned and helped to really shed light,” Chávez-Peterson said. “Until people see it, feel it, hear it — that moves folks to action.”
She worried about the city’s proposal to use Camp Barrett as a shelter. She was particularly concerned that the mayor’s office published the location. Shelter organizers have worked hard to keep its whereabouts a secret to protect the arriving migrants.
Chávez-Peterson said the network is still exploring options and welcomes suggestions from community members as well as government officials. The shelter is scheduled to move again in early February, but organizers haven’t yet found another temporary space, she said.
She anticipated that if the state funds the networks’ efforts, some organizations would open a similar site in Imperial County. Border Patrol in the El Centro Sector currently bus migrant families to the San Diego shelter for help.
Bill Jenkins, who runs Safe Harbors Network, a group of churches and individual homes that provide shelter to asylum seekers who don’t have sponsors to help them, hopes that as government officials take a growing interest in helping, some of the aid and attention might go to the migrants he works with.
He’s been offering shelter to migrants since an influx of Haitians came to the Tijuana-San Diego border in 2016.
He doesn’t see himself as in competition with the Rapid Response Network, but rather as another important part of supporting new arrivals in San Diego.
“The ones we get are the ones who have no support network and are going to require more long-term care,” Jenkins said. “It takes both of us to do what we’re doing.”
Whether the funds will actually be made available, and what criteria will be required to get them, will be up to the legislature.