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Posted Jun 17, 2014, 11:32 am
A plan for U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva to tour the Nogales Border Station was cut short Tuesday when U.S. Border Patrol agents refused to allow five clergy members with him to enter the facility where more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America are held.
Grijalva, along with his daughter, Tucson Unified School District Governing Board President Adelita Grijlava and a member of U.S. Rep. Ron Barber's staff, arrived at the gate around 2 p.m. Monday.
When they tried to enter the facility, "a person in charge" said Grijalva, said word had come from Washington, D.C., limiting who could tour the station.
“When we got to the gate, we were told that it came from Washington and that only the member of Congress and designated staff could take the tour, and I said ‘I’m not going to do that,’” Grijalva said.
His office had submitted a list of people who would tour the facility, he said, and there seemed to be approval from Border Patrol.
The Border Patrol station in Nogales started receiving unaccompanied children on June 6, part of the agency's response to overwhelming numbers of children who have entered the United States through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In the past year, the number of unaccompanied children has spiked 90 percent from the year before.
Almost all the children are from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras and federal officials estimate as many as 70,000 may try to enter the United States this year.
More than 1,000 children have been in the Nogales station at one time and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security have been working to process them through Nogales to either facilities operated by Health and Human Services, or to family or guardians living in the United States.
Grijalva criticized what he called secrecy at the border station's warehouse and demanded increased transparency from the agency. He also submitted a letter to the White House asking for DHS to allow humanitarian groups access to the facilities in Arizona and Texas to provide assistance and oversight.
“We need transparency here. We need to know the extent to which officials are properly using the resources available within the community," he said in a statement. "Trust in this process is essential, and forbidding community leaders who work with the immigrant community and understand the needs of these children will raise skepticism about the process."
Last week, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake wrote to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, asking him to reverse the agency's current prohibition of media access to the facility. In the letter, the Republican pair wrote that they were "concerned by reports that media organizations have been denied access to the Nogales Processing Center to observe and document the conditions in these facilities for the large number of children being held there."
Tuesday, the agency said that reporters would be offered 20-minute "media site visits" of the facilities in Nogales and Brownsville, Texas, on Wednesday.
Reporters will not be allowed to use recording devices or ask questions during the tours, a CBP release said. Photo and video can only be taken by pool journalists, and there will be "no interacting with staff and children at the shelter," the release said.
The rules are meant to "protect the safety and privacy of the children," the release said.
McCain and Flake called the move "welcome news" in a release Tuesday, saying they "strongly urge CBP to be transparent and accommodate all reasonable requests for media access to the facility, while ensuring the privacy and safety of the individuals being held there."
Last week, two Arizona legislators Andy Tobin and Rick Grey were denied access to the facility because they didn't give the agency 72 hours notice.
Other civic and religious leaders have been allowed into the facility, including Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative, as well as mayors from Nogales and Mesa.
Grijalva said he will return to Washington where he will meet with Homeland Security officials and try to reschedule the tour.
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