CBP Shares their Unaccompanied Minor Migrant Issue with Nogales

Nogales BP Childrens Storage Facility Continues to Grow

A truck delivers supplies for immigrant children being detained in a Nogales Border Patrol warehouse

A truck delivers supplies for immigrant children being detained in a Nogales Border Patrol warehouse

A years-long growing surge of children and juveniles entering the United States, mainly from Central American countries, has finally overwhelmed the capacity of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in Texas to contain it. As a result, they have begun dumping thousands of these children in other states, including Arizona, and in particular Nogales.

This story first came to light as CBP began dropping off hundreds of immigrant mothers and their young children at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix in May, without providing resources (or resource information) for food or transportation. That crisis continues in Tucson.

After receiving much well-deserved negative publicity from that inhumane stunt, in early June CBP began the systematic transfer of unaccompanied minors from Texas to other states. Enter Nogales, where a Border Patrol warehouse was designated as a detainment and transfer point for what will eventually be up to 1500 of these children.

And so it began. Reports of the conditions inside the warehouse, which had no indoor plumbing or other accommodations for the housing of human beings, prompted President Obama to declare the situation as a crisis and request immediate FEMA assistance in bringing portable bathrooms, showers, bedding and other supplies to the warehouse.

The situation also provoked a local humanitarian effort led by Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino to collect hundreds of pounds of clothing, toys and necessities for the children. Caring citizens from Nogales and Tucson came together to donate and organize donations for the young wayward Central Americans.

However, to complicate things, that famous Border Patrol lack of organizational management and need for complete secrecy entered the picture.

Donations were refused by the Border Patrol, because they were not able to handle their storage and distribution. And only select visitors, government officials like Mayor Garino and Legislative District Senator Andrea Dalessandro, were allowed to enter the warehouse and see the children who were huddled under aluminum “space blankets,” segregated by gender and age and separated by high chain-link fences.

And as the population of the warehouse grew by hundreds of children who were being bussed in each week to pass 1000 detainees, so did national and international attention to the story.

Photos of overcrowded conditions at confinement areas in Texas were broadcast as generalizations of all of these new detention centers. This was not the case in Nogales, but because of the Border Patrol’s ban on press access to the facility this part of the story was not told.

Bloggers and social media trolls began their attacks on the young immigrants, and especially in blaming President Obama for the situation, even though the seeds of the problem were sown as far back as processes defined by Congress for handling situations like this in the 2002 Homeland Security Act.

Even the Border Patrol Officers’ Union weighed in with comments on the situation, tweeting disparaging comments¬†about the children and complaining about the new responsibilities the BP was being forced to undertake.

This dramatic increase of young migrants began in 2011. Its growth has been tracked by CBP every year but with virtually no action taken to handle it or prepare for the eventuality that it would grow beyond the ability of this ill-prepared government agency to handle it. It came to a head this year, with the number of “unaccompanied alien children” entering the U.S. reaching a level of almost double the amount of the year before, according to Customs and Border Protection.

uac-graph-2011-to-2014

Source: Customs and Border Protection

Today, the situation festers as more and more dignitaries visit the Nogales holding center to conduct dog-and-pony shows with the help of these unfortunate children, but thus far without substantial ideas or actions to alleviate the crisis.

The first lady of Honduras will visit this week, followed by the first lady of Guatemala next week. One would hope that they will accept their share of the responsibility for this crisis and announce actions their countries will take to alleviate the violence and poverty that drives so many unfortunates from their country every year to seek refuge in the United States, and not just be taking a well-publicized chance for a U.S. shopping trip.

Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva has also made visits accompanied by religious leaders, and rumors are circulating that Pope Francis may visit the border to help focus worldwide attention on the crisis. They are unlikely to have much of an impact on this bureaucratic logjam, but more attention on the issue and a little prayer never hurt.

In the meantime, the local Nogales secret federal police force known as the Border Patrol has loosened restrictions on press access, allowing photographers and other journalists to capture images of the detained youths as they lie on makeshift mattresses and watch World Cup soccer games.

And it seems that legal options and procedures for the children are being better defined and implemented, be it efforts to reunite them with their families in the United States, deportation proceedings, asylum or other resolution. To learn more about this, read an excellent article about crisis facts on the Vox website.

And news coverage, especially that provided by Tucson’s local television stations, has become a predictable series of reporters standing outside the gate of the Border Patrol’s Nogales campus, pondering superficial aspects of the situation and trying to find evidence of abuse or other negative items to entice their viewers into keeping their attention focused on this situation.

The Nogales Border Patrol station where a thousand or more immigrant children are detained

The Nogales Border Patrol station where a thousand or more immigrant children are detained

The bottom line is, the current system for handling unaccompanied migrant minors is overwhelmed – originally designed to handle less than 10,000 children, it is now faced with having to detain and process tens of thousands.

In addition, the system has outdated or nonexistent procedures for dealing with this situation, which is also straining government resources. Border Patrol processes are designed for receiving and processing children in three days or fewer, not having to establish detention facilities and provide care and security for what could be several months.

These issues must be expediently and effectively resolved in a way that provides humane treatment of the children as they are detained, processed and placed or deported. It also requires positive steps toward reversing this dangerous trend of children seeking refuge in the United States without adult supervision and a more effective system for dealing with them.

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