Hundreds of juvenile migrants from Central American countries were sent from Texas to the Border Patrol’s Nogales Station this week, and agents say they are being pulled from the field to respond to the influx.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has offered little detail on the situation at the station, other that to confirm that CBP is “assisting with the processing of apprehended immigrants, many of whom are family units from South Texas, including unaccompanied minors.” A spokesman referred additional questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not reply to an information request by Friday afternoon.
Gov. Jan Brewer's office said 432 unaccompanied migrant children were expected to be sent to Arizona Friday, with 734 more to arrive over the weekend.
"This is in addition to, not inclusive of, adults and family units, for which numbers have not been provided or any information given," the governor's office said in a new release.
Art Del Cueto, president of the Local 2544 Border Patrol agents union, said agents at the Nogales Station are processing immigration paperwork for “hundreds” of juvenile migrants, the “large majority” of whom are juveniles.
The migrants are being detained at the station, but they are “getting proper treatment,” including regular meals, Del Cueto said.
“They’re even getting rec time,” he added. “I know they are allowing them to play, to run around, like recess, kind of.”
After the paperwork is processed, the migrants will be released and some will take buses to live with family members in the United States, he said. Since they are from Central American countries, they cannot be deported to Mexico through Nogales.
The juveniles at the Nogales station are among thousands from countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who arrived in Arizona after being apprehended in Texas trying to cross the border illegally. The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the Southwest border – especially minors from Central America crossing into South Texas – has skyrocketed in the past year, creating what President Barack Obama on Monday called an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
A Nogales International reporter was denied access to the Nogales Border Patrol Station on Thursday afternoon, but watched as a bus used to transport detained migrants pulled out of the gated compound, followed by a Nogales Fire Department vehicle. NFD Chief Hector Robles said one of his EMS crews responded to the station Thursday on an unrelated matter and were told that there were approximately 600 children being held there.
The Border Patrol set up a medical station to attend to the detainees and asked NFD crews to provide standby assistance, Robles said. The Border Patrol also contacted Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital to organize a plan for medical care, according to hospital spokeswoman Dina Sanchez.
The Department of Homeland Security has recently been sending undocumented immigrants from Texas to Arizona and dumping them off at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix, sparking the ire of Gov. Brewer, who sent a letter Monday to President Obama urging him to “end this dangerous and unconscionable policy immediately.”
On Friday, Brewer released another statement saying she had learned from federal officials that the effort would continue "into the foreseeable future."
"Not only does the federal government have no plan to stop this disgraceful policy, it also has no plan to deal with the endless waves of illegal aliens once they are released here," Brewer said.
However, Jose Joaquin Chacon, consul general of El Salvador in Arizona and New Mexico, said the last two buses carrying juvenile migrants left Texas for Arizona on Thursday.
Chacon was in New Mexico on Friday to help 200 families who were scheduled to arrive Friday and Saturday in nearby El Paso after being detained in McAllen, he said. From there, they will be sent to locations in Texas rather than Arizona.
He said he planned to fly to Tucson on Friday afternoon and visit the Nogales Station on Saturday.
Requests to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to enter the Nogales Station on La Quinta Road and speak with the migrants went unanswered by Friday afternoon.
Out of the field
The sudden influx of juvenile migrants to the Nogales Station has forced the Border Patrol to post agents inside the facility rather than in the field, watching the border, Del Cueto said.
“We’re taking agents that are working the field and now they’re having to work in the processing center, so that obviously diminishes the amount of agents that are actually watching the line,” he said. “That’s the major thing.”
Although he did not know how food is being delivered to the migrants in this case, the Border Patrol has a contract with a company to bring food for detained migrants, Del Cueto said.
When asked if local charities could provide food for the juvenile migrants, Del Cueto said that likely would not be allowed.
“You never know what they’re going to give them, so that would be an issue for the agency,” he said. “Somebody brings them food and we don’t know what kind of food it is. If somebody gets sick, then who’s responsible? Then it falls on us.”
In terms of agents’ feelings about dealing with the influx of juvenile migrants, he said: “We’ve had to deal with this before. It’s our job, we’re trained.”
Scrambling to respond
According to CBP data, more than 47,017 unaccompanied minors had been detained in fiscal year 2014 as of May 31, more than 33,000 of them in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Sector in South Texas. At this time last year, the Rio Grande Sector had detained just 12,484 youths.
Arizona sectors, by comparison, saw the number of unaccompanied minor immigrants drop slightly, from 6,766 last May 31 to 6,518 this year.
And while more than 80 percent of unaccompanied minors that the agency apprehended on the Southwest border as recently as 2010 were coming from Mexico, that number has fallen to only about 25 percent this year, according to CBP statistics. The other three-quarters are coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The federal government is now scrambling to respond, with the number of unaccompanied minors predicted to hit as many as 60,000 this year.
In a memorandum Monday, the president directed the Department of Homeland Security to develop a coordinated plan between federal agencies to respond to the surge. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was tapped to coordinate the response, which is expected to involve the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and others.
Sources said FEMA had been summoned to provide aid at the Nogales Border Patrol Station, but a call to the agency’s Region IX, which includes Arizona, was referred to a recorded conference call with the press earlier this week that did not address the specific situation in Nogales.
(Additional reporting from the Cronkite News Service.)