TUCSON, Ariz. – At least 1,000 unaccompanied children who crossed illegally into the United States through Texas are being taken to a makeshift emergency shelter in Arizona over the weekend, the latest effort by authorities scrambling to handle what has been described as a humanitarian crisis.
Although overall illegal immigration has declined in recent years, two waves – one of unaccompanied children, another of parents with children – have presented a challenge for officials who say they don’t have the facilities in the Southwest to detain these groups.
The presence of unaccompanied migrant children is not new, but the surge in recent months has overloaded Border Patrol stations and detention facilities, particularly in Texas. Most of the children come from Central America, a region long plagued with poverty but now having to grapple with escalating drug cartel and gang violence.
On Saturday alone, 367 children were taken from Texas to a processing center run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Nogales, Arizona, Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, said Saturday.
A day before, 432 unaccompanied minors were taken to the same facility and another 367 are expected today.
“We fully expect this crisis to continue because there is no solution to fix it,” Wilder said.
Brewer blasted the transfers and, in a letter to President Barack Obama, complained that she learned of the operation through the media, not from his administration.
She has yet to hear back from Obama, Wilder said.
In a statement Friday, the Republican governor said: “This is a crisis of the federal government’s creation, and the fact that the border remains unsecure – now apparently intentionally – while this operation continues full-steam ahead is deplorable.”
The unaccompanied children housed in Nogales are supposed to stay for up to 72 hours before they are sent to longer-term facilities at military installations in California, Texas and Oklahoma.
Immigrant advocates say they understand that the government is pressed to house young migrants, and that the shelters are stopgap measures. But they fear the youths may languish in the institutional settings.
The young migrants’ ranks have tripled in five years, and could reach a new high of 60,000 this year – and more than double that the following year. By then, the costs of shelters and resettlement could reach $2.28 billion.
Last week, the president directed the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to join in an interagency Unified Coordination Group to address the growing numbers of unaccompanied young migrants. Administration officials characterized the trend as an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the start of a new effort, coordinated with the AmeriCorps community service program, to provide about 100 lawyers and paralegals to immigrant children.