Border Patrol agents gave reporters access to the Nogales processing center in Arizona on Wednesday, following widespread reports that children who are detained there live in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
There are 900 children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala being held in nine holding pens, separated by age and gender. They sleep on mats on the floor and are clothed, fed and clean according to Fernanda Santos at The New York Times. Border Patrol agents told reporters that they even switched from flour to corn tortillas after the children refused to eat the flour ones. Sometimes the agents even join them for basketball games. That paints a different picture from recent reports that immigration officials have verbally, physically and sexually abused some of the children they've detained.
At the same time, the holding cells are crowded and the conditions are suffering for it. The Arizona Republic's Michael Kiefer noted that while the children were "far better off than if they were walking through the desert in June temperatures," they "are still children in cages, not gangsters, not delinquents." Kiefer also noted that the facility "smells of feet and sweat and straw, giving it the look and feel of the livestock areas at the State Fair." Children at the Nogales, Arizona, center have been transferred from a center in Brownsville, Texas, that has become overcrowded. Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times noted that some children were crying or looked like they'd been crying.
The Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security have been pushing for immigration reform, but this problem also requires a solution at the sources, in the Central American countries where children are being driven out by gang violence. There are also false rumors among the immigrants that women and children who reach America before June 2014 will be given permits to stay indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed and argue that their job is to catch, not care for, migrants. “Catching illegal aliens is part of the job,” Art Del Cueto, president of the Tucson chapter of the union for Border Patrol agents, said in an interview. “Processing is part of the job. But babysitting is not part of the job, and that’s what a lot of the agents have been doing.” There, at least, people agree: the people who capture migrants shouldn't be tasked with caring for them. But unless the influx of children slows, agents will continue to be unable to process and hand over children to the Department of Health and Human Services shelters in the mandated three-day window.