SAN DIEGO (KGTV)— Monday, approximately 500 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 were settling in at the San Diego Convention Center after arriving over the weekend.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 250 more girls are expected to arrive Monday evening.
The center has been turned into an Emergency Intake Site (EIS) to house unaccompanied minors as they are processed and connected with a family member or sponsor. It has the capacity to accommodate up to 1,450 children temporarily.
“For me, it’s very personal as an immigrant. When I see those beautiful faces in front of me, all I can think of is, I can’t imagine my nieces being by themselves out anywhere without anyone taking care of them,” said County Supervisor Nora Vargas, who spent time with some of the girls as they started arriving Saturday night. “I explained to them the process, and I explained to them in Spanish; I am a fluent Spanish speaker, I think they felt that they had somebody they can ask questions from, and it was a really good interaction.”
Vargas said most of the girls she spoke with were from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“I really want to make sure I’m mindful of their privacy, they’re little girls, and I don’t want to pry,” she said. “Some of them said they’re going to Chicago, North Carolina, and Florida.”
Many nonprofit organizations have stepped in to try to help in any way they can.
SBCS, formerly South Bay Community Services, was asked by HHS to help the girls with social services.
The group is teaming up with similar agencies and health care providers to assist.
They have also partnered with organizations on a local, state, and federal level to provide things like education, enrichment, family reunification, and religious service, according to SBCS.
As the girls start the next chapter of their lives, many San Diegans have also asked how they can personally help.
Vargas and a spokesperson for Mayor Todd Gloria’s office said donations and volunteers are being coordinated exclusively by SBCS.
Those who would like to help can click here.
“When you’re there, you remember that these are little girls, and we have to do whatever we can to make sure that they’re safe,” said Vargas. “I want to say thank you to our San Diego community for really being a welcoming community.”
About 37 of the girls staying at the convention center did test positive for COVID-19. According to HHS, they are being separated from the group that tested negative. The girls are all tested every three days.