Democratic state legislators concerned for refugee children in Nogales

JesusFacepalm2While almost every Tea-Publican candidate in Arizona seeks to exploit the humanitarian crisis of refugee children fleeing violence from Central America as an opportunity for political advantage in their GOP primary by ratcheting up anti-immigrant hysteria — stealing a page from Jan Brewer’s successful 2010 playbook, Ariz. lawmakers demand action on border influx, causing The Republic’s E.J. Montini to ask, Are we about to experience SB 1070 all over again? — our Democratic state legislators are more humanitarian, demonstrating genuine concern and Christian compassion for these refugee children.

The Nogales International reported Legislators see ‘very sad situation’ at BP station:

A trio of state legislators visited the Nogales Border Patrol Station on Sunday, where they saw children as young as infants being cared for in a warehouse that has unexpectedly been transformed into an ad-hoc detention and processing center for hundreds of Central American minors.

“I commend the Border Patrol for doing what they’re needing to do at this time, but I have to say that it is a very sad situation,” said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita), who represents Nogales and Santa Cruz County as part of Legislative District 2.

Gabaldon toured the facility with fellow LD2 Rep. Demion Clinco and LD10 Rep. Stefanie Mach, both Democrats from Tucson, a week after the Department of Homeland Security began sending unaccompanied Central American minors to Nogales after facilities in South Texas were overwhelmed by a recent influx of underage, undocumented migrants.

“I feel the State of Arizona has a moral responsibility for children that enter our state, no matter how they get here. And so I wanted to go down there as a state representative and find out what was occurring,” Gabaldon said.

* * *

Temperatures inside the warehouse are moderated by a “swamp cooler,” Gabaldon said, and while there is running water, the Border Patrol has had to bring in portable toilets and showers.

Gabaldon said the agent who led the tour, George Allen, assistant chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, did not say how many unaccompanied minors are currently at the facility, which can hold up to 1,500 people. The Associated Press reported Sunday that 700 children had spent the previous night at the warehouse.

Allen also did not say how long he expects the Nogales Station to serve as a processing center for the migrants. However, Gabaldon said, he told the legislators that the plan is to keep the minors in Nogales for no more than 72 hours before sending them to centers operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services. And he said the Border Patrol is reaching out to the Red Cross to provide phones so that the youths can try to contact family members.

Gabaldon described the Border Patrol’s role at the warehouse as “triage.”

“They are bringing in the children, making sure they are healthy, that they have immunizations, vaccinations. They’re finding out of if they have family,” she said.

Allen did not talk to the legislators about specific health issues or if any of the minors had been diagnosed with infectious disease, Gabaldon said. Instead, he referred many questions to two agency spokesmen.

“I really commend the Border Patrol,” Gabaldon said. “They’re doing their best, but right now it’s a challenge because this came very suddenly and they have to make do with what they have.”

State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Sahuarita who also represents LD2, said she plans to come to Nogales on Monday to learn more about what’s happening at the Border Patrol station.

“This is just befuddling. To send children that might already be traumatized so far, and then have them stay for only a few days and go somewhere else, it just is very troubling for me,” Dalessandro said.

Gabaldon said she came to Nogales on Sunday to see how she, as a state legislator might help, but learned that it’s almost exclusively a federal operation. Even so, she promised to stay informed.

“Down the road, how are we going to address children that don’t have families? What’s going to happen with those children?” she asked. “Those are the kinds of things that I’d like to stay on top of, and I will be staying on top of it, working with my staff and with the governor’s office.”

The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have offered very little information on the situation in Nogales, but Gabaldon said she was told Sunday that a news conference is planned for sometime in the coming week.

UPDATE: Community steps up for unaccompanied minors:

In a letter sent Monday to President Obama, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who represents Nogales in Congress, expressed concern over reports that the warehouse at the Border Patrol Station “is not in a suitable condition to hold the unaccompanied children.” He asked that his office be “immediately” provided with written details on any improvements planned or underway to bring the facility up to par.

Grijalva also noted that there “are numerous humanitarian groups across the southwest border offering their support to assure these children receive humane treatment,” and asked that they be allowed to do so.

“They are invested in the well-being of these children who, by no fault of their own, are suffering the consequences of violence and extreme poverty in their home countries,” he wrote.

Chacon, the Salvadoran consul, said he saw volunteers at the Border Patrol Station helping to take care of the minors during the weekend, including playing with them. He praised the volunteers for their efforts.

* * *

According to Cronkite News, White House officials said during a telephone briefing with reporters Monday that facilities at military bases in Texas and California have been opened to accommodate migrant children. Meanwhile, preparations are under way to open third facility in Oklahoma.

* * *

Kathi Campana, president of the Santa Cruz Board of Realtors, said there has been a good response to the clothing drive organized by her group and the Mayor’s Office, but added that more is needed.

“One of our members is married to a Border Patrolman and was told by her husband that all of these kids were dumped in Nogales and all they had basically was the clothes on their backs,” Campana said.

UPDATED: Nogales scene brought legislator to tears:

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro visited the converted warehouse with Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino and was told by a Border Patrol supervisor that the processing station would remain open until the end of September, and possibly longer.

As of Monday, there were 751 children held at a Nogales Border Patrol Station warehouse – a former processing station originally designed to expedite the deportations of Mexican nationals and not for taking care of minors for lengthy stays, said Jose Joaquin Chacon, the El Salvadoran consul in Tucson.

Dalessandro said Tuesday that she was told the number was near 1,000.

* * *

Dalessandro, whose District 2 includes Green Valley, Sahuarita, Nogales and southern Tucson, commended Border Patrol agents for coping with a a flood of migrants but said the federal government as a whole needs to do better planning. She said Border Patrol agents leading the tour said they expect to move 300 children at a time out of the facility, but that more children will be coming to replace them.

* * *

Dalessandro said she cried when a Border Patrol agent told her that at least one young boy said his father had been killed in Central America and his mother was in the United States, so relatives hired a smuggler to take him across the border to be safe here.

“The Border Patrol told us a lot of these kids will be applying for (political) asylum. Even little children are telling them of a parent being killed. I did start to cry when I heard that,” Dalessandro said.

* * *

Dalessandro agreed that the children are adequately cared for, and noted that many Border Patrol agents were volunteering their time, but said the children are crowded and scared. They are divided by age and gender into holding cells, as the agents call them, separated by chain link fences, some topped by barbed wire. She noted that there is not space to handle donations of clothing. The state legislator noted that a national vendor is providing food and switched to corn tortillas to suit the kids from Central America.

If you live in Tucson, you can help with donations:

Casa Mariposa volunteers said they planned to continue helping immigrants dropped off in Tucson. They have opened up a collections center in partnership with Catholic Community Services.

Donations can be dropped off at the north entrance of the building located at 140 W. Speedway from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Volunteers said they are in need of children’s blankets, bottled water, Pedialyte drinks, clean sweaters and sweatshirts, cup noodles, plastic cutlery, toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers for ages infant to 2, and travel bags.

Here is the press release from state Reps. Rosanna Gabaldón, D-Sahuarita (District 2), Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson (District 10) and Demion Clinco, D-Tucson (District 2):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Keely Varvel

June 9, 2014
602-568-9030 (mobile); kvarvel@azleg.gov

State Reps visit Border Patrol youth detention center in Nogales

NOGALES, AZ – Three Arizona state representatives visited the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol youth detention center yesterday. The three Democrats, Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón, D-Sahuarita (District 2), Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson (District 10) and Rep. Demion Clinco, D-Tucson (District 2), were some of the first to see the developing situation at the border.

The three representatives toured the makeshift shelter facility that has been fashioned from a commercial warehouse converted in the 2000s to a detention center. The shelter was set-up in response to the increases in unaccompanied minors being detained as they cross the border in to the United States. The group was told the facility, which was designed to accommodate up to 2,500 adults, was shuttered in 2009 and reopened last week for this new increase in unaccompanied youth cases.

The state lawmakers observed that the detention center was equipped with evaporative cooling, chain link fencing, razor wire and temporary bathrooms. It was clear to the representatives that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol staff was working with other federal agencies to improve the conditions, with a goal of transferring children to other longer term facilities within 72 hours. The representatives said that the installation of temporary shower trailers, washing machines and other bathrooms was ongoing.

“This is an incredibly sad situation but it is clear Customs and Border Patrol is working to improve the situations and conditions of these children,” Gabaldón said. “The State of Arizona takes on a moral responsibility whenever a child enters our state regardless of how they got here.”

Just two weeks ago the Arizona State Legislature passed sweeping reforms creating the Arizona Department of Child Safety. The three elected officials traveled to Nogales concerned by the reports that children within the borders of Arizona were at risk.

“It is upsetting because the situation highlights how fragile the system is,” Clinco said. “This vulnerable population has been on the rise. I don’t understand how this could not have been anticipated by federal agencies.”

The Representatives questioned how this situation was allowed to escalate and how the increases became a crisis, requiring U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to activate the facility.

“The circumstances in Nogales underscore a system in crisis and the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform,” Mach said.

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