Visit to the Nogales, AZ U.S. Border Patrol Station’s
Detention Area for Migrant Children
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Sean Carroll, S.J.
On Wednesday, June 11, 2014, I accompanied a group of representatives from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, Congressman Raúl Grijalva’s Office, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Office and the Santa Cruz Count Board of Supervisors.
We were first briefed by Mr. George Allen, a representative of the U.S. Border Patrol. He made the following points:
· The Office of Refugee Resettlement has been overwhelmed by the number of migrant children crossing into South Texas from Mexico, and has not had adequate space to receive and process so many young people.
· The decision was made to transport children by plane to Tucson International Airport and then taken by bus to the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Nogales, AZ.
· Food is being provided three times a day with snacks in between. A dining hall has been set up where the children can eat.
· The children range in age from three to seventeen.
· They can offer showers to sixty children at one time.
· A play area is being set up in the parking lot for the children.
· Public health services are available, which include a health screening, vaccinations and blood tests.
· The plan is to have the children for seventy-two hours and then be transferred to another facility. If they are over twelve, it will be to a military base. If they are under twelve, it will be to a facility run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
· The consuls from the respective countries have access. Most of the children are from Honduras and El Salvador.
· At the moment, they have 1,100 children. Seventy-eight children were transferred yesterday.
· The children currently sleep on plastic cots, but 2,000 correctional mattresses have been ordered and will be delivered today or tomorrow.
· 140 Border Patrol Agents have come to assist.
During the question and answer period, he made these additional points in response to questions:
· The United States Public Health Service is available to provide counseling to the children.
· Customs and Border Protection Chaplains are coming to accompany the children. They do not appear to want pastoral assistance from the local Nogales community.
· Televisions are being set up, which will be used to show the “What to Expect” video and to explain their rights. They will be able to use the televisions for recreational purposes as well.
· No plan exists at the moment to engage the local community in providing assistance to the children, though we were told that the plan would be forthcoming. It is likely that the Red Cross will play a role.
We then walked over to the area where the children are staying. It is a very large warehouse building and part of it is used for the children. In the parking lot, two tents have been set up where the play/recreational area will be located.
One large truck was outside the warehouse, which was being used to wash clothing. At least one truck was there containing showers and there were two trucks with toilets and sinks (we could not go inside to see for ourselves). However, sometime after we entered the warehouse, a group of young girls were escorted in from outside, and it was clear that they had bathed.
The inside of the warehouse had an adequately cool temperature. To the left as we entered was the area that had been set up for vaccinations and other health services. There were a line of refrigerators and freezers, presumably for vaccines and other supplies. An area nearby had also been designated to keep the children’s belongings in large plastic bags. Also, a number of phones were visible and were being used. They were available so the children can speak to consular officials and to their families.
We arrived at lunchtime, so groups of 200 children at a time walked in a single line to receive their food and then to eat in the designated area. Physically, most looked like they were in good condition, adequately clothed and were having their basic needs met. At the same time, we were not allowed to speak with them, so it was difficult to assess how they were doing psychologically and spiritually.
The next step is to keep communicating with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to develop and implement a plan that clarifies the children’s needs and provides people the opportunity to respond to them. Once we have some direction, then we will make that information available on our web site and on our Facebook page. We will send out an e-mail blast as well.
Thanks so much for all your generous offers of support. We are so grateful.