SAN DIEGO • Courtney Porter, 23, sat on a wall in front of the San Diego Convention Center last week with a backpack and carry-on suitcase. He looked dejected while flipping through a sheaf of papers that listed several local homeless shelters. A call to each one resulted in the same answer: “I’m sorry, we’re full.”
Porter arrived a few weeks ago from St. Louis, but his unemployment check and hawking an iPad haven’t been enough to pay for rent. Desperate, Porter showed up at one facility and waited on an adjacent patio.
“They said, ‘I can get you some food, but you can’t sit here. You can go to the park or the beach,’” he said. He chose the seaside convention center, unaware that it had housed more than 600 homeless until the final person left March 24. Three days later, the homeless were replaced by 500 migrant girls flown in from Texas. Hundreds more arrive every few days.
The irony of this wasn’t lost on Porter, who left the violence of St. Louis to start a new life in San Diego.
“Biden signed an $86 million deal to house immigrants, but they can’t get people like me off the street,” he said. “We just don’t know how to leave third-world countries alone.”
The incentives brought hundreds of thousands. With the world watching Texas grapple with wall-to-wall minors packed into “pods,” one state had been silent over this epidemic until now.
But relief was short-lived.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, all Democrats, worked out a plan to bring 1,450 minor girls to the San Diego Convention Center as a way to ease conditions in Texas. More than 500 girls are now on-site, with the rest to arrive shortly. And 70 brought COVID-19 with them.
“What we know right now is there is no use for this facility, and this is a public asset,” Gloria told ABC 10 News San Diego. “People of the city own it; it could sit here vacant doing nothing, or it could do something on behalf of thousands of kids who need it.”
This is true: The convention center, better known for hosting Comic-Con International every year, is a city property, and it was vacant. But no City Council meetings were held to get public input, and the property would likely still be housing the homeless if Joe Biden hadn’t created a border crisis, critics charge.
“The three of them are jumping all over each other to show who is more woke,” said former San Diego City Councilman and political activist Carl DeMaio. “Gloria is arm-in-arm with the homeless, then he kicks them to the curb for illegals who should not have been here in the first place.”
Adding insult to injury, the migrants will receive an in-person education, something California children have been waiting on for a year. Additionally, 70 girls have tested positive for COVID-19, while Californians have been told not to mix households or spend the holidays with loved ones.
California teachers have balked at a return to the classroom, fearful of contracting the coronavirus. Even as Gov. Gavin Newsom pledges to get students back in classrooms as he ramps up vaccinations, it will still only be a few hours a day, with the remaining instruction via Zoom.
Teachers, however, have jumped at the chance to volunteer to teach migrants in a setting where COVID-19 infections exist.
“What are they doing? Literally bringing households from around the world into this mix,” DeMaio said. “The hypocrisy is glaring.”
Dozens of people passed by the convention center last week, gazing at the building in bemusement. Many stopped and talked to the Washington Examiner, but none were in favor of importing migrants from Texas.
Meanwhile, the girls inside were oblivious to the situation. A loading dock at the back of the building was a hub of activity as donations arrived to make their stay more comfortable: bedding, clothing, backpacks, feminine hygiene products, and soccer balls. Border Patrol agents stood guard, walking the perimeter between the intake area and a check-in counter where staff entered. It was there that County Supervisor Nora Vargas entered to check on the situation and meet some of the girls. They were divided into rooms of 50, with cots spaced at least 6 feet.
“I spoke to some of them; they are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras,” Vargas said. “I didn’t want to ask questions but rather let them talk. One girl told me that things were really bad in her country and she was fleeing violence. She was really happy to be here but concerned because she hasn’t talked to her parents and she wants them to know she is safe.”
Vargas said as an immigrant herself, it was essential that she make a better life for herself in the United States. That’s what these girls want as well.
Ensconced behind closed doors in a center exhibition hall, the girls are viewed only through a window when they come out in groups of 10 to go to the restroom or filter into another building where a makeshift cafeteria is set up. Some smile and wave at onlookers.
Small white card tables flanked by gray chairs face a buffet-style table where hot food is served from a warming cart. The migrants walk in single file, spaced a foot apart, patiently waiting for their turn. The older girls in their late teens wear cornflower blue button-down shirts and slip-on tennis shoes, donated by a local church. A small group of children who appeared to be between 4 and 6 dutifully sat in a back row.
Caring for the migrants until they could be reunited with family members is the right thing to do, Supervisor Fletcher said.
“I believe it is a moral obligation,” he said in a press conference. “These are children no different than my own children. They have followed the laws, they have followed the asylum process, they have legal status to be here.”
Gloria’s office said the project should wind down by July 15. DeMaio doesn’t believe it.
“Whenever the government tells you something, add extra money or time,” he said. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, a Republican, says Becerra likely called Fletcher and Gloria to nail down this plan as a way to score points with the Biden administration. It’s unclear who actually came up with the idea to import more potential COVID-19 cases into a state that had the worst infection numbers in the nation.
“It’s typical of everything that has happened since Biden took over,” Wells said. “They are acting more like monarchs than showing that the public has a right to know. Who are they? How many are coming? How much will it cost? How long will they be here? How many have COVID?”
Gloria’s office said the city would be reimbursed by the federal government, but no official estimate was available. DeMaio estimates that it will be at least $6,500 per migrant per month, costs that are borne by taxpayers.
Judging by the negative comments on Twitter, the public does not see the program in a positive light. One post showed a cartoon of homeless veterans sitting in a doorway with their belongings, bemoaning the fact that Biden pledged to spend $86 million to place immigrants in hotels. The city said the homeless were placed in shelters or other housing situations, but with hundreds of homeless on the streets, it’s unclear if and how enough beds are available.