PHOENIX — Hundreds of unaccompanied minors who entered the United States illegally through Texas are being shipped to Nogales, Ariz., creating a problem there so serious the federal government is sending relief supplies and asking the state for vaccines, an aide to Gov. Jan Brewer said Friday.
Andrew Wilder, the governor's communications chief, said federal officials told Brewer's office they were moving 432 children into Arizona late Friday, with another 367 expected today and an identical number the following day. And that said Wilder, is apparently just the beginning.
"More unaccompanied minors will continue to Arizona," he said.
Wilder said they are being taken to a detention center in on West La Quinta Road in Nogales for at least preliminary processing. He said state officials were told they would stay there for about three days before being shipped out to detention facilities in San Antonio, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, or Ventura, California.
That center in Nogales was recently opened to handle the large influx after being closed for several years. It has no indoor plumbing.
In the interim, however, Wilder said the sudden influx has created a problem, to the point where federal officials asked the state Department of Health Services to ship federal relief pallets they store in Arizona to Nogales. Those pallets contain everything from hygiene supplies, pillows and blankets to bedpans and medical supplies.
And Laura Oxley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, said federal officials have also asked Arizona to have vaccines, paid for by the federal government, shipped to Nogales. Oxley said these are for the normal childhood diseases like measles and mumps, with the plan being to vaccinate the children before they are moved elsewhere.
Wilder said this appears to be more than a temporary situation. He said as children leave the Nogales facility they are expected to be replaced by new arrivals, with capacity there at 1,500 at any one time.
He also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has dispatched Steve DiBlasio, the region's deputy regional director, to Nogales to oversee the situation.
Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement referred all questions about what is happening to the children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. A call to that agency's spokesman was not immediately returned.
Wilder also said that it appears ICE will continue shipping busloads of immigrant families to Arizona, essentially releasing them on a promise that they will report to immigration authorities when they reach their final destination. "There are no plans to terminate it,'' he said.
That fact was confirmed by an ICE spokeswoman.
The root cause behind both situations appears to be a sudden influx of immigrants, not so much from Mexico but from deeper in Central America. That is being spurred in part by a coffee fungus that has left many who had been working on those plantations without a job.
There also are reports of increased violence in Honduras which has led to more immigrants from that country.
This shift in country of origin has put a crimp in ICE operations which normally involve simply shipping immigrants, most of whom have come from Mexico, back to the border to their own country.
In essence, the immigrants are being released on their own, with orders to report to an ICE office within 15 days of arriving at their final location.
But Wilder said the problem is the creation of the lack of border enforcement by the Obama administration. And he said it will only get worse as new immigrants figure out they are not immediately being shipped home.
"As word continues to grow throughout other countries that America's borders are open, if you get to our border you will be welcomed, we expect the influx that is already a crisis level ... will continue,'' Wilder said. And he said the Obama administration has made no real effort to secure the border.
"If this administration would put half the effort into securing the border that it has put into this operation of transporting illegal aliens to Arizona, and other states possibly, then this crisis wouldn't exist.''
Brewer sent an angry letter to President Barack Obama on Monday demanding that the program of dropping off families at bus stations in Phoenix and Tucson stop immediately. She called the program dangerous and unconscionable, asked for details and demanded to know why state authorities weren't consulted or even informed.
Brewer's staff spent Friday in a series of calls with officials from the FEMA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.