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New Wave of Asylum Seekers Given Aid by Riverside County and Local Non-Profits

The Galilee Center

During the immigration surge at the U.S-Mexico border in 2019, Riverside County partnered with local non-profits to help more than 2,800 asylum seekers reach their final destinations. KVCR’s Megan Jamerson reports, as arrivals surge once again, action is already underway to assist these families.

The Galilee Center, located in Mecca in the Eastern Coachella Valley, is one of the non-profits that works with Riverside County. Helping asylum seekers is an intensive process says Claudia Castorena, the center’s CFO and CO-founder.

“It’s a lot. It’s so many tasks. And it’s kind of fast paced," said Castorena. "You know, the average stay at our shelter is 24 to 36 hours. No more than that. I know we are welcoming them with dignity, [and] with respect, however, they are not arriving there to stay.”

Some of the urgency has to do with the immigration process. Their documentation to stay in the U.S. is temporary and they have court appearances to make often in other states.

Castorena says the biggest misconception is that these people stay in California when in fact, almost everyone is headed elsewhere to stay with family members and sponsors in states like Florida, New York and Georgia.

In the past month, upwards of 300 asylum seekers made up of family units have been housed temporarily at the Galilee Center, which with COVID-19 restrictions has capacity for 55 beds. Since the start of the year, 65 people were delivered there directly by a Riverside County team.

Riverside County spokesperson Brooke Federico says the county has a holistic response for helping asylum seekers that includes the participation of many county departments including emergency management, housing, public social services, public health, and behavioral health.

“As we developed the response in 2019, several departments were immediately identified and we were able to find that cross sectional response," said Federico. "The key difference here is now public health’s role is even bigger, understandably so with the ongoing pandemic.”

The county works in close contact with the U.S. Border Patrol station in Blythe to receive advanced warning about new arrivals. This can be anywhere from a few hours to a day, so the county has to spring into action to welcome them. Families are first tested for COVID-19 and given PPE.  If needed, they get medical attention before being transported to a shelter or to hotels to quarantine if they test positive for COVID.

When people arrive at a shelter like the Galilee Center, they are given food, clothing, and a place to rest while case workers help them make travel arrangements.

These families are from all walks of life says, Castorena, but she has noticed some changes that have required the shelter staff of 17 people, who only speak English and Spanish, to use a lot of Google Translating.

“Back in 2019, the majority came from Central America, but now we are get families from Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, but also from India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan [and] China.”

The number of people who pass through Riverside County this year is entirely up to the Border Patrol, but both the county and the Galilee center are seeking local, state and federal funding to support these programs since they don’t expect the need to stop anytime soon.