Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson met with community leaders and local and federal officials Friday to plan for humanitarian aid for immigrant women and children being dropped off at the bus station downtown.
The Department of Homeland Security began dropping off several hundred immigrants a week at the Tucson Greyhound station for about three weeks, expecting them to find their own way to cities across the country to report to immigration offices there.
Large numbers of mostly Central Americans and families from Mexico are being apprehended in south Texas in the Rio Grande Valley and being flown to bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix because federal officials cannot handle the influx of immigrants in Texas for processing.
“About 80 women and their children a day continue being dropped off (at the Greyhound bus station), and Casa Mariposa provides shelter for some families and temporary housing, but they are overwhelmed now,” said Kicanas of the volunteers who advocate for immigrants.
“Transitional housing is needed for those who can’t leave right away. We need to provide hospitality, clothing and food. We need to advocate for them,” said Kicanas, adding that the Tucson community has opened its arms to refugees and immigrants who are in need in past years.
Kicanas said most of the immigrants receive money from relatives quickly and they buy bus tickets and leave. Others need money for bus tickets and a place to stay, he said, adding that they are “penniless, hungry, dehydrated and without adequate clothing.”
City Councilwoman Regina Romero, who attended the meeting, said she is working with the city’s staff to provide a list of city-funded emergency shelters that can take in women and children.
The list will be provided to immigration officials and Greyhound officials.
The bishop said the influx of unaccompanied children who are being processed at a Border Patrol warehouse in Nogales also was discussed. More than 1,000 teens, young mothers and their children have been shipped to the facility for processing since last week.
The children are expected to be sent to other federal facilities across the country, and federal authorities are also looking at opening a shelter in Tucson for them.
Kicanas said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who attended the meeting, will work with officials to determine what humanitarian aid the Tucson community can provide for the children in the Nogales facility within federal regulations.
Among the concerns, said Kicanas, were food, legal representation, pastoral care and attention to the children’s emotional needs.
Kicanas said he hopes to get the go-ahead from federal officials to celebrate Mass on Sunday for the youths at the facility in Nogales.
Kicanas said the immigrants who are coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are suffering from gang and drug violence, and from a depressed economy.
“Our community can help them,” he said.