NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — Officials are working to improve conditions at a makeshift holding center in southern Arizona where immigration authorities are housing hundreds of unaccompanied migrant minors.
A federal official said that mattresses, portable toilets and showers were brought in Saturday for 700 of the youthful migrants who spent the night sleeping on plastic cots inside the Nogales area center.
The Homeland Security official told The Associated Press that about 2,000 mattresses had been ordered for the center — a warehouse that has not been used to shelter people in years.
With the center lacking some of the basics, federal officials have asked Arizona to immediately ship medical supplies, Gov. Jan Brewer's spokesman Andrew Wilder said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security started flying immigrants in the country illegally to Arizona from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas last month after the number of immigrants — including more than 48,000 children traveling on their own — overwhelmed the Border Patrol there.
Immigrant families were flown from Texas, released in Arizona, and told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office near where they were traveling within 15 days. ICE has said the immigrants were mostly families from Central America fleeing extreme poverty and violence.
The Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to discuss the matter publicly, said the holding center opened for unaccompanied migrant children because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had nowhere to turn.
At the holding center, vendors are being contracted to provide nutritional meals, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, will provide counseling services and recreational activities.
The Homeland Security official said the number of children at the warehouse was expected to double to around 1,400. The warehouse has a capacity of about 1,500.
The Arizona Daily Star reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/UlC3VD ) that Jimena Díaz, consul general of Guatemala in Phoenix, visited the center Friday and said there were about 250 children from Guatemala, with the rest coming from El Salvador and Honduras.
Diaz told the newspaper that the children are being kept in separate groups, divided by age and gender. Most of them are between 15 and 17, Diaz said, with a few much younger than that. Teenage mothers with their children are also being detained separately, he said.
The warehouse began sheltering children flown from South Texas last Saturday. About 400 were scheduled to arrive Friday but, because of mechanical issues with the planes, only about 60 came, the Homeland Security official said. Saturday's flights were canceled, also because of mechanical problems. There are flights scheduled through mid-June.