Federal authorities will likely continue rotating migrant children through the Nogales Border Patrol Station all summer long, said Mayor Arturo Garino, who visited the compound Monday.
Garino, who had his first look inside the compound since a warehouse there was converted into an emergency processing center for unaccompanied minors, said Border Patrol officials told him that the operation could go on all during the summer months. He added that anywhere from 200 to 300 children were processed out of the 1,500-capacity facility on Monday, but he expects that authorities will bus in more this week.
“They told me they are going to be doing this for the rest of the summer,” Garino said Tuesday. “There is going to be a rotation.”
Since last week, hundreds of migrant children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been brought to Nogales from processing centers in South Texas after facilities there were swamped with undocumented, unaccompanied minors. Current estimates put the number of children at the Nogales Border Patrol Station near 1,000.
Humanitarian leaders including Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of the Huehuetenango Diocese in Guatemala, where many of the new migrants are from, say that an economic crisis, coupled with a new, more uncaring attitude by more well-off Central Americans have left many of their poor destitute with few choices than to look for better opportunities in the United States. When they migrate, they often leave behind children like the ones now housed in Nogales.
“The only thing these children want is to be reunited with their families,” Ramazzini said during a recent interview in Tucson.
Others have cited increasing violence in Central America as an impetus for migration, while still others say recent Homeland Security policy of releasing undocumented Central American migrants as they await immigration hearings has encouraged more illegal crossings.
Though saddened by the plight of the migrant children, Garino said he was happy to see that Border Patrol officials are doing their best to take care of them. What’s more, Monday’s tour was a chance to deliver some of the clothing, toys and footwear that area residents have contributed to a donation drive, despite not knowing if the Border Patrol would be able to accept them.
The mayor said he was allowed to drop-off two loads of donations Monday after he and his wife Cathy packaged them up at City Hall.
“What they don’t want is for us to inundate them with a lot of boxes,” Garino said. “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.”
The young detainees are well hydrated, have access to showers, medical care and are separated by sex and age, Garino said. He was pleasantly surprised to see that they had access to a phone bank where they could call their consulates or relatives, if any live in the United States.
“Border Patrol is doing a great job. Things are going to get better,” he said. “Logistically, this is a nightmare for anybody.”
Most of the children will spend anywhere from three to five days in Nogales before being taken to a more permanent facility or released to relatives or guardians, Garino said.
Still, he said, he could not help being moved after he spoke with two girls of about 10, who told him they were sad because they missed their parents.
State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, who visited the converted warehouse with Garino on Monday, told the Green Valley News that she cried when a Border Patrol agent told her that at least one young boy said his father had been killed in Central America and his mother was in the United States, so relatives hired a smuggler to take him across the border to be safe here.
"The Border Patrol told us a lot of these kids will be applying for (political) asylum. Even little children are telling them of a parent being killed. I did start to cry when I heard that," Dalessandro told the paper.