NOGALES, Ariz. – Three hundred more unaccompanied migrant children — with more on the way — were transported Saturday from southern Texas into a makeshift way station set up in a Border Patrol detention facility in Nogales, Ariz., as government agencies took additional steps to improve the living conditions there.
By today, more than 1,000 children are expected to fill the detention center as the government continues to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors apprehended crossing the border illegally in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
Tony Banegas, Honduras consul to the United States in Arizona, visited the site to find out how many children are from Honduras. He said 764 children were at the facility as of Saturday evening, including 236 from Honduras.
He said children at the facility are sleeping in plastic containers, haven’t showered for up to 10 days, and include pregnant teens and a 1-year-old suffering from diarrhea.
“It’s supposed to be temporary, but (U.S. officials) can’t define that,” Banegas said, when asked how long he was told the children would be held at the facility.
Multiple unmarked white passenger buses entered the station early Saturday. They carried what appeared to be young people into the center. Some buses left the station in the afternoon, though it is unclear whether they were carrying only children.
Children arriving at Nogales border patrol facilityA bus carrying immigrants arrives at a Border Patrol facility in Nogales, Ariz., on Saturday, June 7, 2014. (Photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic) Fullscreen
Children arriving at Nogales border patrol facility Children arrive at border patrol facility Children in bus at Nogales border patrol facility
The young people inside the buses could be seen smiling, waving their hands and making peace signs.
Saturday afternoon, portable showers and restrooms were brought to the center, which can hold up to 1,500 youths, according to Gov. Jan Brewer’s office.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency could not say how long the transfer of children will continue.
“What drives that is how many people are coming into Texas, and how many people are processed in general,” said Victor Brabble, a CBP spokesman.
Banegas said CBP officials told him two flights full of children would be arriving in Arizona from Texas on a daily basis for an indefinite amount of time.
Members of the media were denied access to the facility, but officials who went inside said conditions were improving from early photos shared online showing children covered with aluminum-foil blankets.
“The conditions, without a doubt, are not the most optimal, not the best, but they are improving the quality of food and their opportunity to clean themselves, take showers, change clothes, etc.,” said José Joaquín Chacón, the El Salvador consul general in Tucson, who visited the children being detained there and said they were being fed cold burritos.
“Now they won’t just be giving them burritos,” said Chacón, who said 230 of the children are from El Salvador. “They’ll be giving them fresher food.”
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Chacón said many children already are calling relatives to schedule times to reunite with their families. Those who don’t reunite with their families will be sent to temporary shelters around the U.S., where the reunification process could take up to three weeks.
“We would have liked this process to be more organized toward the well-being of the minors,” he said.
Several federal organizations — including the CBP, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — have been working to ease the situation. According to the Associated Press, more than 48,000 immigrant children traveling on their own have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, overwhelming the Border Patrol in Texas.
FEMA is using the Nogales way station to vaccinate the children and perform medical check-ups.
After a maximum of three days, children will be sent to one of three different military bases: in Fort Sill, Okla.; Ventura, Calif.; or San Antonio, Texas. Their custody situation will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Brabble said.
He said the Nogales facility is expected to receive supplies to help with medical check-ups and improve living conditions. These include: a medical-screening area set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; counseling and recreational facilities set up by FEMA; and additional bedding and laundry facilities set up by the CBP. Brabble said a vendor has been contracted to provide food.
The AP reported that a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official said 2,000 mattresses have been ordered for the Nogales facility.
Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino showed up outside the CBP facility Saturday afternoon but said he was not allowed inside. He received notification from the CBP on Thursday afternoon that the children would be transported there.
Garino said his office, the Santa Cruz Board of Realtors and the Nogales Police Department are running a drive to collect clothing for the children.
“Border Patrol has always been a good partner of the city of Nogales; they work very closely with us,” he said. “Now, as a city, we need to help Border Patrol so they can accomplish their goal to make sure the children are well taken care of.”
The transfer drew criticism from Brewer on Friday, when she issued a statement expressing her concern.
“If the Obama administration put half the effort into securing our border as it has invested to institute this operation, our state and nation would not be facing this situation,” she said in the statement.
The situation in Nogales is a continuation of the ongoing immigration issues in Arizona involving undocumented families. The families, most of them from the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, were apprehended by officials in southern Texas. Because of overcrowding there, the families were flown to Arizona, and many families with children were released and taken to Greyhound bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix.
Daniel Wilson, 26, a volunteer, has been assisting the migrants in Tucson.
“This is very clearly a humanitarian crisis,” Wilson said. “(The United States’ response in administering help with this crisis is a military-style response.”
Wilson said he worries about the unaccompanied children being transported to Nogales.
“I can’t imagine how a little child can be going through this without the support of their mother or father,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.