Dulce Garcia was just four years old when she was brought to the United States illegally from Mexico. Like the thousands detained at the border, her family was hoping for a better life, and she can't help but relate to the unaccompanied minors the federal government is scrambling to process and reunite with families.
"I'm undocumented, so even though I've been in this country 33 years, there's still no path to citizenship for me," Garcia said, adding that her brother was deported by an order from the Obama administration.
Garcia is a DACA recipient who attended college and law school in the United States and is now a practicing attorney. She also serves as an executive director of Border Angels, a San Diego-based nonprofit that advocates for migrant families and provides them with humanitarian aid.
She was recently granted a permit to cross the border despite her undocumented status and will be headed to Mexico this week for the first time since she arrived in the U.S.
During that trip, she will visit some of Tijuana's encampments where hundreds of families with children are waiting and hoping to be processed for asylum in the U.S.
"It's really immeasurable the damage we're doing, especially when it comes to the children. We have right now hundreds of children that are in tents, sleeping in the streets because there is no humane way for them to properly present their claims to asylum," Garcia said.
She was relieved to learn President Biden's administration recently tapped the city and county of San Diego to transform the massive convention center downtown into a temporary shelter that will house migrant children seeking asylum until at least July.
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that when the federal government called, it was the right thing to do, and he said San Diego was eager to step in to help.
"These are children no different than my children or anyone else's children. And I think there is a moral obligation to do the right thing here," Fletcher said.
This week, city and county staff worked to transition the center into a migrant children's haven from a temporary homeless shelter, which set to close as people were transitioned to other housing in San Diego.
Spectrum News 1 spoke with some of the local businesses and restaurants surrounding the convention center. While none wanted to go on the record, some raised concerns about the facility's use as a migrant shelter.
Their worries included COVID-19 testing, the cost to taxpayers, and the timeline. Officials said the convention center couldn't be used for large events to bring business to the city until at least July. Still, some local businesses are concerned that once the center is transformed into this shelter, it will be difficult to wind down and transition back to events.
Meanwhile, San Diego county and city officials said they are focused on their humanitarian effort to help the unaccompanied minors. They added that the federal government would provide the children much-needed food and health services while working to connect them with family or sponsors in the U.S.
Garcia supports the effort and also said it's not going to be enough.
"It's a good thing that the city and the county are stepping up and providing this service, but at the same time, we don't fix the reason why these folks are migrating, and we don't fix the reason why people are sending their children unaccompanied, so we really have to do a more holistic approach," Garcia said.