Happy to be invited to talk about immigration on the Little Faith podcast.
While Sister Donna Markham had seen images of children and their parents waiting outside the Nogales port of entry, the reality was 10 times more painful, she said.
“This is the first time I see people sitting outside lined up at a border like that, sitting in the heat and waiting to be tended to,” said Markham, chief executive officer and president of Catholic Charities USA, as her eyes welled with tears. “That was pretty shocking for me. And to be with people and to know how frightened they are, they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”
Markham was in Tucson Thursday as part of a Southern Arizona visit that included talking with officials of the binational organization Kino Border Initiative in Nogales and meeting with families lined up outside the pedestrian area of the port of entry waiting for Customs and Border Protection officers to process them.
She also visited Casa Alitas, a local shelter of Catholic Community Services, where families arrived after being released by immigration officials — including some of those processed at the port of entry.
The month-to-month numbers of families and minors being processed at Arizona’s ports of entry don’t tell the full story of why some wait up to two weeks for an opportunity to ask for asylum, officials said Monday.
“Arizona is one of the most understaffed field offices that we have,” said Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations.
“The port of Nogales has 142 vacancies themselves. We temporarily reassigned officers from elsewhere to help deal with the responsibilities down there. So the variables will change month-to-month as to what we can handle and what we cannot,” he said.
In June, there were 742 parents or guardians and their children processed at Arizona’s ports of entry, along with 143 minors who arrived alone. That’s down from about 1,000 families and 169 unaccompanied minors in May, CBP figures show.
The number of people processed, though, is not that different than in December, when there were 1,036 families and 217 unaccompanied minors who came through. There weren’t any lines then.
Nearly 80 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border are housed at a shelter north of downtown Tucson, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva told reporters Friday after he toured the facility.
Since the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for border enforcement, there have been 3,000 children reclassified as unaccompanied minors across the U.S.-Mexico border, including about 100 under the age of 5, after their parents were referred for prosecution for crossing the border illegally.
But government officials have refused to provide local numbers.
Casa Estrella del Norte, the shelter visited by Grijalva, is one of about three in the Tucson area. There are at least nine others in the greater Phoenix area, according to a map put together by ProPublica.
“It’s clean, but it’s still a place where kids can’t leave,” Grijalva said after the more than hourlong tour. “At the end of the day it is still disheartening to see kids in legal limbo trying to figure out what’s going to be their status in the future.”
There are about 300 minors currently housed at the shelter — about 60 girls and the rest boys — which is operating at capacity.
Grijalva said the focus at the moment is to expedite the reunifications of those separated from their parents, which is taking about 45 days.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat. “The staff was very honest — the reunification is not going to be an easy task.”