A trio of state legislators visited the Nogales Border Patrol Station on Sunday, where they saw children as young as infants being cared for in a warehouse that has unexpectedly been transformed into an ad-hoc detention and processing center for hundreds of Central American minors.
“I commend the Border Patrol for doing what they’re needing to do at this time, but I have to say that it is a very sad situation,” said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita), who represents Nogales and Santa Cruz County as part of Legislative District 2.
Gabaldon toured the facility with fellow LD2 Rep. Demion Clinco and LD10 Rep. Stefanie Mach, both Democrats from Tucson, a week after the Department of Homeland Security began sending unaccompanied Central American minors to Nogales after facilities in South Texas were overwhelmed by a recent influx of underage, undocumented migrants.
“I feel the State of Arizona has a moral responsibility for children that enter our state, no matter how they get here. And so I wanted to go down there as a state representative and find out what was occurring,” Gabaldon said.
She did not see the dormitory areas where the minors have been sleeping on cots, Gabaldon said, but she did see about 100 juveniles as they were coming out to eat. Most were males, approximately 12 to 16 years old, but others were females, some of whom had infants and toddlers with them.
Temperatures inside the warehouse are moderated by a “swamp cooler,” Gabaldon said, and while there is running water, the Border Patrol has had to bring in portable toilets and showers.
Gabaldon said the agent who led the tour, George Allen, assistant chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, did not say how many unaccompanied minors are currently at the facility, which can hold up to 1,500 people. The Associated Press reported Sunday that 700 children had spent the previous night at the warehouse.
Allen also did not say how long he expects the Nogales Station to serve as a processing center for the migrants. However, Gabaldon said, he told the legislators that the plan is to keep the minors in Nogales for no more than 72 hours before sending them to centers operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services. And he said the Border Patrol is reaching out to the Red Cross to provide phones so that the youths can try to contact family members.
Gabaldon described the Border Patrol’s role at the warehouse as “triage.”
“They are bringing in the children, making sure they are healthy, that they have immunizations, vaccinations. They’re finding out of if they have family,” she said.
Allen did not talk to the legislators about specific health issues or if any of the minors had been diagnosed with infectious disease, Gabaldon said. Instead, he referred many questions to two agency spokesmen.
“I really commend the Border Patrol,” Gabaldon said. “They’re doing their best, but right now it’s a challenge because this came very suddenly and they have to make do with what they have.”
State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Sahuarita who also represents LD2, said she plans to come to Nogales on Monday to learn more about what’s happening at the Border Patrol station.
“This is just befuddling. To send children that might already be traumatized so far, and then have them stay for only a few days and go somewhere else, it just is very troubling for me,” Dalessandro said.
Gabaldon said she came to Nogales on Sunday to see how she, as a state legislator might help, but learned that it’s almost exclusively a federal operation. Even so, she promised to stay informed.
“Down the road, how are we going to address children that don’t have families? What’s going to happen with those children?” she asked. “Those are the kinds of things that I’d like to stay on top of, and I will be staying on top of it, working with my staff and with the governor’s office.”
The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have offered very little information on the situation in Nogales, but Gabaldon said she was told Sunday that a news conference is planned for sometime in the coming week.