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SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of migrant teens spent their first night at the San Diego Convention Center this weekend and more are on the way. 

Up to 500 girls are at the new migrant shelter now, and 250 additional unaccompanied minors are expected to arrive in the coming days. The shelter will serve girls ages 13 to 17, officials said.

“We will be working with them, making sure they have the proper medical care, also social and emotional skills, counseling,” Larissa Tabin said.

Tabin and the team from nonprofit SBCS are the lead in providing services for the unaccompanied minors at the convention center. The first group of teens seeking asylum arrived by bus Saturday night. They were tested for COVID-19 before arriving and will be tested every three days.

“They received their intakes. They’ve gone through medical screenings,” Tabin said. “When I was there earlier today, they were shopping for new clothes at our kind of little set up store. They’re receiving their meals.”

The children are being sent to San Diego from overcrowded border detention facilities where kids are not supposed to be held for more than 72 hours.

“It’s obviously very traumatic for them to be in a whole new place, alone, without their parents. And we’re also starting to coordinate education services and enrichment services for the youth,” Tabin said.

Plans for the facility received backlash from some local leaders and the public. Supervisor Jim Desmond released a statement Sunday saying in part: “The county has once again, stepped up and put a Band-Aid on a much more severe problem. I am very concerned for the public health of greater San Diego, of allowing thousands through our borders in San Diego. We still have a large amount of San Diegans unemployed and a large homeless population. We need to make our own issues the top priority.”

The convention center can eventually house as many as 1,450 unaccompanied orphans, girls who were separated from their families and those who were sent to the U.S. by parents with hopes of delivering them to safety away from violence or extreme poverty in their home country, officials said.

SBCS said anyone who would like to support efforts at the convention center should visit their website.

SBCS partners include:

  • Casa Familiar
  • Logan Heights Community Development Corporation
  • MAAC
  • New Alternatives
  • Promises2Kids
  • San Diego County Office of Education
  • San Diego Youth Services
  • The Catholic Diocese
  • The Children’s Initiative
  • The Episcopal Diocese
  • University of San Diego
  • YMCA of San Diego County

The average stay for each teen is expected be 30-35 days and the shelter will close by mid-July, officials said.