Az officials rail against transfer of minors, laud BP response
Officials keep media out of Nogales facility
As the transfer of hundreds of unaccompanied minors from Texas to Arizona continues, Arizona officials have issued a flurry of press releases, many praising the response of Border Patrol but critical of the federal government's handling of the transfer and wary of the conditions inside.
Since last week, the Department of Homeland Security began transferring unaccompanied minors apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from processing stations in south Texas to Nogales.
The children, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, are part of a rising number of people that has overtaxed Border Patrol stations and created what President Obama recently called an "urgent humanitarian situation."
At one point, Border Patrol agents were apprehending nearly 200 children per day, each of whom requires a complex and time-consuming processing.
The unaccompanied minors include young mothers with infants, toddlers, as well as adolescent boys and girls.
By Monday, there were 751 children in the facility at Nogales, which is contained in a converted Factory 2-U warehouse, acquired when the U.S. Border Patrol believed they would face a wave of migration in the Tucson Sector in 2005.
According to Tony Benegas, the Honorary Consul for Honduras who visited the facility Thursday, there are 1,140 unaccompanied minors inside the facility, including 393 from Honduras.
"The numbers are going down," he said.
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber said Thursday that he's concerned for the "care, safety and well-being of the more than 3,300 unaccompanied children being held in federal facilities."
Calling the "enormous influx of children and other unaccompanied family members" a "failure of the federal government," Barber said in a press release that the federal government should reimburse the state for any costs incurred dealing with the situation.
State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, whose legislative district includes Nogales, visited the facility and called the Border Patrol's response a "logistical miracle."
She was moved to tears, she said, during her visit. "Many of these kids have terrible stories that just moved me," Dalessandro said.
"The conditions are spartan, but the kids are being taken care of," she said. "They're dong really good work, but one of the frustration for me and rest of the world is there hasn't been much information," she said.
In a letter Thursday, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake wrote to Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske 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."
The letter urged Kerlikowske to reverse the current policy prohibiting media. Requests to visit the facility made by TucsonSentinel.com have been denied.
While mayors from Nogales and Mesa have been able to visit the Nogales station, two Arizona legislators, Andy Tobin and Rick Gray were denied access because, according to KTAR, they didn't give the agency 72 hours notice.
“The situation is still dire. The facility is too crowded, and sanitation facilities remain an issue,” said state Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón, who visited on Monday. “I am afraid this kind of environment may contribute to outbreaks of illness or violence.”
Arizona officials have been frustrated with the evolving situation.
Gov. Jan Brewer criticized the transfer of children from Texas to Arizona on Friday in the a public statement.
"I am disturbed and outraged that President Obama’s administration continues to implement this dangerous and inhumane policy, meanwhile neglecting to answer crucial questions our citizens demand and deserve," she said.
Brewer has criticized the Obama administration's handling of the border before. "This is a crisis of the federal government’s creation, and the fact that the border remains unsecure — now apparently intentionally — while this operation continues full-steam ahead is deplorable."
Thursday, her office issued a new release, again lambasting the White House.
"It has become clear that the administration has encouraged this massive influx and intends to continue ignoring the states' calls to end this policy," said Brewer.
“I share the governor’s sentiments regarding the federal government’s actions," said Democratic legislator Gabaldón.
“Although immigration is a federal policy issue, I believe that when people in our state are suffering, regardless of how they arrived here, we must ensure they receive humane treatment. This is especially true when children are involved," Gabaldón said.
The federal response has included U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and Health and Human Services, along with the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Department of Defense, which maintains the air bases that have been used as temporary shelters in Texas and Ventura, Calif.
The White House has asked FEMA to help, along with AmeriCorps, including a request for lawyers to volunteer their time to help process the children and work on their deportation and asylum cases.
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber issued a statement on Thursday, noting that the situation "represents a failure of the federal government to secure the border and fix our broken immigration system."
In a letter to the Border Patrol's Kerlikowske, he asked if Arizona taxpayers would have to cover the costs of the transfers, specifically the people dropped off at Phoenix and Tucson Greyhound stations last week.
This early effort to deal with the rising number of "family units" which included parents and children riled Brewer and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who stated in a public release that the Department of Homeland should stop transporting people to Arizona or face possible lawsuit.
“Not only were these inadvisable and irresponsible actions done without notifying Arizona officials, but DHS has yet to explain why it is apprehending aliens in Texas, moving them some 1,200 miles and simply releasing them in our state," said Horne.
"There does not appear to be any lawful authority for such actions, and I am demanding it immediately stops," he continued. "In the meantime, my office is aggressively looking into what legal remedies are available to allow for a federal lawsuit,"
In addition to complaints about the use of Greyhound terminals in Arizona's two major cities, there were also questions about how many Border Patrol officers had been shifted from patrols to processing the children in Nogales.
Barber's letter included a request for DHS to explain how many agents had been "pulled from their mission of securing the border and ensuring the safety of my constituents."
According to Art Del Cueto, president of the Tucson Sector’s Border Patrol union, Local 2544 of the National Border Patrol Council, agents have been shifted.
"Agents are being shifted from patrol to the processing center and this has some us worried about what's happening at the edge," Del Cueto said.
While Arizona officials criticized the agency, federal officials have stated that as many as 70,000 children will cross the U.S.-Mexico border through the summer until September requiring a continuous federal response.
Wednesday, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved the addition of $78 million to the Department of Homeland Security's budget to address the surge of illegal alien children and unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States from Mexico.
As Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson remarked Thursday morning, the children are in deportation proceedings and those apprehended at our borders are priorities for removal regardless of age.
The estimated 47,000 children who have already come across the Southwestern border this year are not eligible for relief.
Johnson said he was in talks with foreign officials about ways to address the migration and would travel to Guatemala this summer.
“We must do something to stem this tide,” he said.