Long Beach Convention Center.jpg

The Long Beach Convention Center's Pine Avenue entrance.

Long Beach officials have been asked by federal officials about the availability of the Long Beach Convention Center to potentially house children crossing the border from Mexico, but nothing has gone beyond the discussion stage.

A source close to city management confirmed Saturday, March 3, on the condition they not be identified, that discussions had taken place between federal and city officials.

The official word from the city on Saturday, April 3, was “no comment.”

An influx of unaccompanied minor immigrants have stretched facilities at the Mexican border. Last week, the San Diego Convention Center opened to house up to 500 teen girls, according to published reports. The Biden administration has also established multiple temporary facilities in Texas, including at a convention center in Dallas, a coliseum and expo center in San Antonio, a former oil camp in Midland and at Fort Bliss. Additional facilities to shelter the minors are being scouted, including a Crowne Plaza hotel in Dallas, a convention center in Florida, and a church hall in Houston.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the Pentagon approved the possible use of Camp Roberts, a California Army National Guard base in central California, to temporarily house migrant children traveling alone, according to a defense official. The California National Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

The Long Beach Post first reported the possibility Long Beach was being considered on Thursday, and the Los Angeles Times published a similar story on Saturday.

Before any agreement with the federal government could be reached, the proposal would have to go before the City Council for approval, including public discussion of the issue. Nothing had been scheduled as of Saturday afternoon.

Long Beach’s Convention Center has been largely dormant during the pandemic — though its parking lot has been tapped for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations — as public health orders shut down indoor performances, sporting events and exhibitions.

The Long Beach Arena, part of the Convention Center complex, was set up last year as an emergency COVID-19 hospital, but never was used.

But state health officials said Friday that such indoor activities can resume as soon as April 15, with capacity limits and other restrictions. It’s up to local officials to decide their own timetables and rules for those reopenings, but neither city nor county officials had announced any decisions as of Friday.

Border authorities encountered more than 9,000 children without a parent in February, the highest single month since May 2019, when more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors came to the border.

Unlike their parents in many situations, all unaccompanied minors are allowed to stay in the U.S. That dynamic has prompted many parents to either send kids on the journey to America alone, or get to the border and let them go the rest of the way. Most end up at least temporarily in shelters that are currently way beyond capacity.

Last week, the Biden administration allowed, for the first time, journalists to go inside its main border detention facility for migrant children in Texas, revealing a severely overcrowded tent structure.

President Joe Biden has been under pressure to bring more transparency to the process. U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week allowed two journalists from The Associated Press and a crew from CBS to tour the facility in Donna, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, the nation’s busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

More than 4,100 people were being housed on the property Tuesday. Most were unaccompanied children processed in tents before being taken to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services and then placed with a family member, relative or sponsor.

The children were being housed by the hundreds in eight “pods” formed by plastic dividers, each about 3,200 square feet in size. Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them.

Oscar Escamilla, acting executive officer of the U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, said 250 to 300 kids enter daily and far fewer leave.

The Associated Press and New York Times contributed to this report.

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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