Two young men seeking asylum rest on cots while waiting to begin their journey to their sponsors.
Two young men seeking asylum rest on cots while waiting to begin their journey to their sponsors. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego’s nationally influential migrant shelter crossed a milestone in November when its staff aided the 100,000th person seeking asylum locally.

In November 2018, the ACLU, Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Service of San Diego banded together to aid migrants who were being left on the streets by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The San Diego Rapid Response Network stepped up four years ago to help migrant families and they have never stepped down,” said county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “The work they continue to do has changed lives and set people up for success.”

Over the years, Jewish Family Service took over management, government agencies stepped up to provide much of the funding, and dedicated facilities were established. The San Diego shelter is now considered a national model.

“The San Diego Rapid Response Migrant Shelter serves as an example of what is possible when community groups, in coalition with local and state governments, come together to respond to changing needs at the border with humanity and compassion,” said Monika Y. Langarica, staff attorney at UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy.

Rep. Scott Peters called the shelter “a shining example to other community initiatives around the country” and Mayor Todd Gloria has said the shelter program is well regarded in Washington.

The shelter provides food, clothing, medical checkups and temporary accommodations while arranging for migrants to travel to family or friends elsewhere in the United States. Those helped are all waiting for their cases to be heard in immigration court.

The majority of migrants who have traveled through the shelter are from Central America, but this year there have been large numbers of asylum seekers from Russia, Ukraine and Haiti.

Michael Hopkins, CEO of JFS, said he spoke with the 100,000th migrant — a woman named Yolanda who was escaping cartel violence in Michóacan, Mexico, with her four children.

He said she told him in Spanish, “It was a happiness to be here. I feel safe. I’m here. They can’t do to me what they did in the past.”

Now the shelter program faces a new challenge as the Biden Administration seeks to repeal Title 42, a Trump-era policy that kept many asylum seekers from entering the United States.

Hopkins told donors on Tuesday that repealing the policy “is a human rights win that will also test the strength and resilience of the shelter once again.”

“We are committed to ‘welcoming the stranger’ with dignity and compassion while prioritizing the public health of our community,” he said, citing a well-known Biblical obligation.


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Ellen Bullock