Overflow facilities to accommodate migrants open at Arizona border
TUCSON – U.S. Border Patrol officials prepare to open the second of two overflow facilities that officers will use to detain and treat a growing number of migrant children and families apprehended along the Arizona-Arizona border. Mexico.
Agents in the Yuma area of southwestern Arizona last week opened a 90,000 square foot facility in the parking lot of the central processing station. It will welcome migrant families and unaccompanied children crossing this area.
This week, construction crews completed a similar facility in Tucson, which will be used to house unaccompanied children officers encounter along the rest of Arizona’s border with Mexico.
John Modlin, the interim chief patrol officer for the Tucson area, welcomed visitors this week for a tour of the soft-sided facility before starting to house children next week. He stressed that their permanent holding cells are not built to accommodate families or children.
“Everyone has seen that there is a surge in migration across the southwest border, which is really putting a lot of pressure on existing resources,” he said on Wednesday. “So that means these children remain in our care for long periods of time.”
Since the start of the fiscal year in October, Arizona border officials have encountered 101,687 migrants, making it the second busiest corridor on the border.
The vast majority were single adults from Mexico and Central America whom officers returned across the border under Title 42, an emergency public health rule in place since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
In recent months, an increasing number of children and families have arrived at the Arizona border. Since October, officers statewide have detained 8,786 unaccompanied migrant children, most in the Tucson area.
During that same period, they also detained 12,811 migrants traveling as a family unit, meaning it includes at least one parent and one child. Most pass through the Yuma sector.
Both groups are increasingly under Title 42 and are to be detained at border enforcement facilities in southern Arizona.
Families remain there until U.S. immigration and customs officials recover them. The surge in arrivals has caused backlogs, so border officials, citing capacity constraints, began releasing families in small rural communities like Yuma and Ajo in February.
The border patrol is holding unaccompanied children until the US Department of Health and Human Services finds them a place in long-term care shelters or places them with relatives in the United States.
“In our facilities, if you were there, you would essentially see small holding cells designed to hold people for short periods of time. There are cement benches in there, cement floors. They are not intended for children, ”he added. mentionned. “Also, border patrol officers are not trained to care for and detain children.”
A closer look at the new ‘soft-sided facilities’ in Yuma and Tucson
The two facilities in Yuma and Tucson each have the capacity to accommodate up to 500 people. But with COVID-19 security guidelines, capacity will be limited to half that number, according to border patrol.
The 90,000 square foot facility is similar to those used in Texas, where the largest number of migrant children and families enter the United States.
Their arrival drew attention to the conditions of detention. In March, the number was so high that children exceeded the 72-hour limit allowed in institutions.
This prompted President Joe Biden’s administration to open several emergency shelters across the country to help get children out of border patrol custody more quickly.
Although migrant crossings through Arizona are less numerous than in Texas, they have nevertheless created capacity constraints for border officers, especially in the Yuma area, which is one of the smallest areas in in terms of size and staff.
“Our entries have been 300 to 450 per day so, yes, it’s still a challenge,” said Vincent Dulesky, the spokesperson for the Yuma sector of the border patrol.
Yuma agents have apprehended a greater number of migrants who are not subject to Title 42, mainly those from Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela. Officers must therefore receive them in their detention facilities.
The tent complex at Yuma sits on five acres of the main processing station. It will increase the detention and treatment space for families and children, who account for almost half of all migrant encounters in this sector.
Dulesky said that even though the capacity of the new facility is halved, apprehensions are still high enough that “if we have nowhere else to place these guys, we are forced to go over the top. of these limits “.
“Soft-sided facilities,” as border patrol refers to structures, are a collection of large tents connected by long corridors leading to different areas of the complex. The construction of these facilities was rapid and took less than a month.
Each has a large area which is used to accommodate migrants after their first deposit. They are equipped with numerous plexiglass stations and dividers, as well as a surveillance zone.
Migrants are detained in “pods”, the term for waiting areas where children and families sleep. Each basket is separated by transparent tarpaulins which allow officers to monitor them at all times. There is a main door to each capsule, which Border Patrol says does not stay locked.
Several of the waiting areas, intended for young children, are equipped with toys and games. Each has a number of mats that migrants use for sleeping. There are also sinks and bathrooms in each pod.
Border Patrol has said children will be held separately based on gender and age group, to avoid, for example, having teenagers in the same holding area as toddlers.
Other areas of the soft-sided facility, according to the Border Patrol, include showers, phone booths for migrants to make domestic calls and an outdoor recreation area that children will have access to several times a day.
The facilities are managed by contractors who will provide meals, maintenance, laundry, babysitting and security for the complex. The tents are air conditioned, an important factor given that temperatures in Arizona will start to hit triple digits in the coming days.
Work together: Tucson becomes Arizona border response hub
Dulesky said the Yuma complex would primarily house minors and unaccompanied families. The one in Tucson will only house unaccompanied children, who until now have been housed in the central processing facility at the area’s headquarters.
About 120 officers and customs officials from across the country will be stationed at the Tucson facility to help process unaccompanied minors at the site, the border patrol said.
Officer Antony Bivens said during Wednesday’s visit that they had tried to build the facility with children in mind, so that they could have a less confined setting than the permanent facilities designed for single adults.
“We are going to have enough people here to organize activities. We are going to try to make this place as pleasant as possible for the children,” he said. “It’s new to us. But we’re trying to do what we can.”
Migrant advocates voice concerns
Migrant advocates who visited the soft-sided facilities said conditions were not ideal. There is still a lot more room for improvement, especially to help fill children’s time in detention, they said.
“These facilities don’t live up to the standards that we would support for most American children, do they? In everyday life,” said Juanita Molina of the Border Action Network.
“But at the same time, we must recognize the urgency of the children who are literally at the border,” she added.
Not far from the soft-sided facility in Tucson, about 7 miles away, small groups of migrant families released by ICE and the border patrol made their way to the Casa Alitas reception center, a few hours away. hardly after Wednesday’s visit.
Most of the migrants released that day came from Ecuador, another country whose migrants are not subject to Title 42 and therefore are not deported to Mexico.
The site is managed and operated by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. Casa Alitas provides shelter, food and assistance to asylum seekers released in Arizona.
The Tucson tent complex will have little impact on migrants arriving at Casa Alitas as unaccompanied minors remain in federal custody and are not released to migrant shelters.
But they are likely to begin receiving families held at the facility alongside Yuma’s soft sides who are turned over to nonprofits in that city and then transported to Tucson.
Diego Piña Lopez, the program manager at Casa Alitas, said he hoped the increased retention space at the soft-sided facilities in Yuma and Tucson would mean the border patrol would no longer need to free up migrants in small rural communities such as Ajo. .
“When I look at space, it’s not perfect,” he said. “But the whole situation is not perfect. I think it’s done with a lot of consideration.”