Mayor: Migrant Children To Be Processed In Nogales All Summer
NOGALES, Ariz. — A Nogales facility that opened last week for unaccompanied Central American children apprehended at the border is expected to be in use most of the summer, said Nogales Mayor Arutro Garino.
Several Arizona elected officials have plans Wednesday to tour the facility, which is currently housing more than 1,000 children.
Last week, in response to a surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, the federal government began using a border processing center to temporarily house and process up to 1,500 children at a time. It is located inside the Nogales Border Patrol station complex, less than two miles from the international boundary.
Hundreds of children initially housed there have already been processed and transferred to more permanent shelters in recent days, according to reports from those who have been allowed to visit.
Reporters haven't been permitted inside the Nogales facility, and the federal government has provided few details. Garino, however, toured the warehouse-like building earlier this week.
“It is moving to go in there and see such young children,” Garino said.
He said he was struck by two girls as young as 10 or 11 who told him they were sad because they missed their parents.
A majority of the children were apprehended crossing in South Texas and were flown and then bused to Nogales. Others crossed the Arizona border.
Garino praised federal agents for adapting the site with showers, laundry, phones and a medical examination area.
Not all visitors, however, were impressed with the conditions.
A group of Phoenix-area clergy led by Rev. Jarrett Maupin met with Border Patrol personnel inside the Nogales facility on Tuesday. Maupin characterized what he saw as “sophisticated squalor” to reporters afterwards.
“They have insulation falling from the ceiling, chain-link pens,” Maupin said. “It is not pleasant.”
He said his impression was that children were not getting showers or medical attention quickly enough. Maupin was not given access to speak with the children, but he said it appeared to him that most were wearing the same clothes they had crossed the border in.
Maupin said he learned from Border Patrol officials that a few of the girls may have endured sexual assaults during their journey to the border, and he was concerned about possible delays in their access to a medical exam.
By federal statute, unaccompanied migrants under the age of 18 are only supposed to be held in Department of Homeland Security facilities for fewer than 72 hours before they’re transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. From there, they are supposed to be housed in shelters contracted by that agency's Office of Refugee Resettlement.
A shortage of bed space in those ORR shelters has caused a bottleneck, however. In recent months, minors have been languishing in short-term Border Patrol holding stations for longer than the three-day limit. Those facilities do not have beds or showers, and are known for cold temperatures inside.
In response to a mounting housing crisis, the federal government opened the Nogales site as a way-station to process children. The government has also opened shelters on military bases in Oklahoma, California and Texas.
The Guatemalan consul for Phoenix, Jimena Diaz, said there are plans in the works to add more ORR shelters in Arizona, including converting a Tucson hotel into a shelter.
"They opened one in May in Mesa, and they have plans for other ones, too," Diaz said.
From the Nogales facility, children are supposed to be transferred within a few days to ORR shelters as bed space opens up, or to the newly established shelters on military bases.
Garino says he saw evidence during his visit that those transfers are happening.
“A bus came in with children, and then two buses left with children,” Garino said. “So when they are being processed they are being sent to somewhere else.”
Maupin said Border Patrol told him that 200 children had been processed out of the facility as of Tuesday morning.
According to numbers provided to the Guatemalan consulate, 80 more children were transferred from the Nogales facility to shelters later on Tuesday, and an additional 100 to 130 are to be transferred to Naval Base Ventura County in California later in the week.
Tony Banegas, the Arizona’s honorary Honduran consul, has spent several days inside the facility interviewing Honduran youth there. He said the children he spoke to over the weekend had memorized the phone numbers of relatives in the U.S.
The children will eventually leave the shelter system when they can be reunited with relatives or placed into foster care. They all still face deportation, and will have their day in immigration court.
According to statistics provided to the Guatemalan consulate in Phoenix, 1,084 children were in the Nogales facility as of Wednesday. The largest share were Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran, in that order.
A handful of children are from other countries, including India and Nicaragua.
Many of the children are fleeing gangs and violence, and are coming to reunify with family already in the country. There are also reports of rumors circulating in Central America that children crossing alone will be allowed to stay in the U.S.
Border Agents have made more than 47,000 apprehensions of unaccompanied children since October, a 92 percent increase from the same period last year.
As national attention is focused on the challenge of housing these unaccompanied minors and address the backlog in shelter space, it is shedding light on what some say are abusive conditions in Border Patrol holding stations.
On Wednesday, a coalition of civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups filed an administrative complaint to the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 116 unaccompanied minors. They are alleging mistreatment of unaccompanied minors in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody over the last year. The allegations include physical, sexual and verbal abuse, denial of medical care, and overcrowded and unsanitary holding cells.
Meanwhile, at Nogales City Hall, dozens of cardboard boxes are stacked neatly in the foyer. They are full of clothing, shoes and toys that community members have donated to the children coming through the Nogales processing center. Some donations came from as far as Phoenix and Tucson.
Garino asked for donated clothes on Facebook when he realized many of the children would be wearing the same clothes they’ve been traveling in for weeks.
In the span of less than a half hour on Tuesday afternoon, three separate groups came in to drop off donations, including gym shorts, menstrual products, and dozens of new shower sandals.
Local realtor Lupita Mendoza was among them. She says she was inspired to help.
“I could probably make a difference in [the children] being happy, or feel secure, or feel that ‘hey, somebody cares about me,’” Mendoza said.
Some of the collected clothes and toys have already made it to the facility where the children are being held. Garino plans to make another call for donations when this round of supplies run out.