Signal Tribune: Event connects immigrant children once held at Long Beach Convention Center to lawyers and resources

August 30, 2021


Now reunited with their families, the immigrant children once held at the Long Beach Convention Center were invited to “Welcome With Dignity Day” hosted by Immigrant Defenders Law Center at Shoreline Aquatic Park on Saturday, Aug. 28.

“No child will leave this event today without a lawyer signed up,” Immigrant Defenders Executive Director Lindsay Toczylowski said. “With representation documents in hand so they know that when they have to go to court, they’ll have someone by their side.” 
The children arrived at the southern U.S. border without any adults during the implementation of the controversial Title 42. Under this 1944 immigration law, the United States sends back families and adults that arrive at the border to seek asylum, purportedly to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 
However, it still allows children who arrive at the border alone to be taken into custody and therefore enter the country.
The Supreme Court also recently upheld the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed, which can take years.
“We have seen families where parents were trapped in Mexico, sometimes after attempting to seek asylum with their children first,” Toczylowski said. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen situations where children and their families are sent back into Mexico and parents are kidnapped, and the child is then alone on their own and ends up coming to the border to seek protection. We see so many situations of desperation right now, on the border, because of the continued implementation of Title 42.”
According to Toczylowski, unless the U.S. immigration system is significantly reformed, more children can be expected to arrive alone at the border.
As of May 31, 2021, 20,332 unaccompanied minors were in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 
“I think that we’ll continue to see families having to make desperate decisions in order to save their children’s lives,” Toczylowski said. “And what we really need is our asylum system to be functioning in a way that actually welcomes everyone with dignity, gets everybody access to the protection system. So that we don’t have situations where we continue to see families be separated, and children be put in situations where they, you know, end up in convention centers.”

The children are held by Customs and Border Patrol, often for longer than legally allowed, before eventually being brought to facilities such as the one operated within the Long Beach Convention center from April to July 2021.

While the facility at the convention center was in operation, local immigrant rights groups advocated that the children should instead be held in small-scale houses operated by nonprofits, rather than large centers.

“This was an emergency situation where unfortunately that was not possible,” Toczylowski told the Signal Tribune. “But it’s always the ideal setting for kids to be in smaller home-like shelters.”

Toczylowski said that the priority was to get the children out of border patrol custody, where multiple media outlets showed footage of overcrowded cages with children sleeping on floors in CBP facilities near the border.

“Of course no child should ever be sleeping in a convention center,” Toczylowski said. “But if it has to be done in an emergency situation we’re really proud of the work that UCLA Medical did, [and] the City of Long Beach.”

State Senator Lena Gonzalez also spoke at the event and advocated a bill she brought to the California legislature, SB 452, which would create a new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs to help immigrants integrate themselves in California.

According to Gonzalez, an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs would “ensure that we have a centralized voice, not just at the state level but regionally and locally, so we can ensure that all immigrant communities and families have resources that they need.”

Multiple organizations set up booths within Shoreline Aquatic Park, to help the children and their families access resources available to them, including the Guatemalan Consulate of Los Angeles, the L.A. County Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Department of Health, UCLA Medical Center and more.

“I believe in opening the doors, and saying, ‘Welcome to our family,'” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson told the crowd. “And as a part of that family, we are here to support you, to provide you love and support, to embrace you here in our Long Beach community, our greater Southern California community.”

Families at the event were also given free food, backpacks and toys. 

A Know-Your-Rights seminar was also held in Spanish so that families could be aware of what to expect and how to prepare for the children’s upcoming immigration cases.

“Welcome to Long Beach. Welcome to California. Welcome to the United States,” Toczylowski said to the families.

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