Brendan DeSmet arrived at Nogales City Hall on Wednesday afternoon with a car full of supplies he and his colleagues at Acacia Animal Hospital in Tucson collected for the hundreds of unaccompanied Central American minors being held at the Nogales Border Patrol Station.
Meanwhile in Safford, 15 volunteers from different churches joined together at the First United Methodist Church to organize personal hygiene supplies and clothing that they’ve collected for the young undocumented migrants. Tomorrow they’ll haul the goods to Nogales City Hall in a trailer, the Eastern Arizona Courier reported, making a pit stop along the way at a Methodist church in Tucson to pick up more donations.
But in Nogales, church groups have put the brakes on similar efforts.
“They told us to stop,” said Eric Cazares, office manager at San Felipe de Jesus Parish, in reference to a meeting Tuesday between local faith-based groups and Ray Sayre, director of Santa Cruz County Emergency Services. Folks at Sacred Heart Church also say they’ve stopped collecting donations, many of which are now piled up in a church leader’s garage.
While Mayor Arturo Garino and his wife Cathy continue to solicit and accept items meant for the Central American minors, other indicators suggest the effort could be in vain. In addition to the instructions local religious leaders say they received Tuesday from Sayre, a Border Patrol spokeswoman told the Green Valley News that the agency is not accepting donations of clothing or toys, in part because there is no staff to inspect each item for safety and cleanliness. State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, who toured the Nogales Border Patrol Station on Monday, told the paper that there is no space at the facility to handle donations of clothing.
Sayre was out of the office Wednesday, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman reached by the Nogales International referred questions about donations to the Rev. David L. Myers, who advises FEMA on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. Myers did not immediately return a message seeking clarification.
Mayor Garino visited the Nogales station with Dalessandro on Monday, and said he was allowed to drop-off two loads of donations after he and Cathy packaged them up at City Hall.
“What they don’t want is for us to inundate them with a lot of boxes,” Garino told the NI on Tuesday. “There are about six ladies helping my wife, sorting more stuff. We are going to be giving it to them as they need it. We are just going to cut back on them a little bit.”
Speaking Wednesday, Cathy Garino said that some of the donated clothing and toys have been sorted and designated for the Crossroads Mission and Child Protective Services rather than the Central American minors. She also acknowledged that the Border Patrol won’t accept stuffed toys, and so some of those items will go to the Nogales Police Department and CBP to use when they respond to incidents involving children.
But while the fate of the donated items may be vague, there is little ambiguity in the sentiment behind them.
“This is not just a Christian thing, this is not a political thing, this is a humanitarian thing,” Pastor Sherry Brady of the First United Methodist Church of Safford told the Eastern Arizona Courier.
DeSmet said the issue goes beyond political and international boundaries.
“These are refugees, they are not immigrants and it’s important to make that distinction,” he said. “Many of them are coming from countries where opportunities are limited and they're fleeing from violence in many cases. It just breaks my heart.”