About 750 immigrant children were being held at a detention center in Nogales as of Saturday, officials said, the result of an influx of border crossers in South Texas that has the federal government scrambling to keep up.
Jimena Díaz, consul general of Guatemala in Phoenix, visited the center Friday and said there were about 250 children from Guatemala, with the rest of the group coming from El Salvador and Honduras.
The children are being kept in separate groups, divided by age and gender. Most of them are between 15 and 17, Diaz said, but there are a few much younger than that. Teen mothers with their children are also being detained separately.
The placement center, part of the Nogales Border patrol Station on West La Quinta Road in Nogales, was recently reopened to handle the new arrivals. It is a refurbished warehouse with no indoor plumbing but portable toilets were moved in and showers were installed, Diaz said.
José Joaquín Chacón, consul general of El Salvador in Arizona, visited Saturday and said that while the situation was not optimal, the condition of the minors was good and it was improving.
While the mood was anxious, with some of the minors at the center for three days, the children had been given plastic balls and playing cards to pass the time. Border Patrol agents were also working to set up a recreation area, Chacón said.
Consular Officials from the Central American countries have been explaining the process they are going through and the children have been in contact with family members in the United States.
“What they want is to be with their families, we are asking them to be patient,” Diaz said. “Due to the large quantity it’s something that’s going to take some time.”
Border Patrol cannot send them to their families directly, Diaz said, but once they are at a shelter can family reunification begin. The problem right now is that all the shelters are full.
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said that once the youths are processed, certain individuals will be transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where appropriate custody determinations will be made case-by-case, prioritizing national security and public safety.
The surge in border crossers, especially unaccompanied minors, is the sum of various factors, Diaz said, including poverty and crime in the children’s home countries and smugglers spreading rumors of amnesty.
According to reports, federal officials told Gov. Jan Brewer's office more than 1,000 minors would be coming into Arizona over the weekend.
Arizona Daily Star reporter Luis F. Carrasco contributed to this report.