The children being held in the Nogales Border Patrol station seem to be in good physical health, officials who visited the center said Tuesday.
"I was very impressed with the progress they've made," said Santa Cruz Sheriff Tony Estrada. "They are taking good care of these kids."
Nearly 1,100 children and youth who crossed the border illegally without parents or legal guardians are being held in a makeshift detention center in Nogales. Estrada said about 60 percent of them are males. Most of them are in the 15-17 age range, but there are some as young as four and teen mothers with their babies.
About 82 percent of them were apprehended by the Border Patrol in South Texas — a region that has seen the largest influx of children — and the rest from Arizona.
So far, more than 100 of the children have been transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement-contracted shelter, where officials seek to reunite them with relatives or parents already in the United States while their immigration cases are pending.
Jimena Díaz, consul of Guatemala in Phoenix, said on Friday another 100 to 130 will be transferred to a military base in Ventura County, California, one of several the Defense Department has made available to temporarily house the children. Another 300 are scheduled to leave Saturday, but she didn't know the destination. Under normal circumstances, Customs and Border Protection has to turn over the youth to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, but due to the surge, the agency has run out of space.
The federal government has released little information about the transfer of the children and youth to Arizona. Details about what's happening are coming from consular officials from the Central American countries with the highest numbers — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — and more recently local and state government officials and non-profit representatives who are being allowed inside the center.
The Border Patrol refurbished the old Factory 2-U warehouse in the mid 2000s to quickly process Mexican nationals, but it closed several years ago as the traffic through the Tucson sector slowed.
The children are being served three meals a day and are eating in groups of 200, said Sean Carroll, a priest and executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, a binational organization that work on immigration issues.
The children and youth, separated by age group and gender, are sleeping on plastic cots, but Carroll said they were told 2,000 four-inch mattresses were expected to arrive Wednesday or today .
"Most looked good, but it's hard to know for sure how they are doing in other ways, psychologically and spiritually," he said. Visitors did not speak with the children.
Local churches and non-profits want to help, Carroll said, but the federal government has not set up a plan to coordinate the assistance.
"We are ready to help, but we need so direction to best meet the needs of the children," he said.