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Facilities for migrant children and families coming to Arizona, officials say

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Posted at 10:38 AM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 21:32:36-04

Arizona will serve as the location of a new migrant children facility as officials continue to see more unaccompanied minors coming to the border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Tuesday.

According to the office of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Customs and Border Protection will open soft-sided facilities in the Tucson and Yuma sectors.

The facilities are made from vinyl, a soft-sided fabric hence the name of soft-sided facilities.

Such processing facilities have been seen before in Arizona. A similar facility was used by the Border Patrol back in 2019 in Yuma.

According to a government official, familiar with Customs and Border Protection briefings, the facilities will be similar to those built last month in Donna, Texas.

ABC15 reached out to the mayor of the City of Yuma, Douglas Nicholls, who confirmed a facility will be built in Yuma County soon. He says there have been upgrades to the facilities used in 2019.

“It's not a tent, it has air conditioning, great floors, restrooms, and showers. It’s a much better environment than the location where migrants are generally held by Border Patrol, so it’s my understanding that this will be primarily dedicated to minors and family units,” Nicholls added the facilities will be within Border Patrol custody.

Abc15 also reached out to Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s office, they said the facilities are expected to be ready by mid-April.

Customs and Border Protection did not confirm Sinema’s office information, but released the following statement:

“There have always been fluctuations in the number of individuals we encounter at the border, and we continue to adapt accordingly. Since April 2020, CBP has seen an increase in border encounters from the Western Hemisphere due to worsening economic conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters impacting the area. Based on past experience, evaluation of operational requirements, and challenges due to COVID-19 space restrictions, we need additional processing facilities when we see rising numbers of encounters. As we work to build and improve permanent facilities for the safe and orderly processing of individuals at the border, temporary soft-sided facilities are sometimes necessary to meet operational needs that may arise due to rising encounters, particularly under challenging circumstances.”

Data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows that just in February, there were 1,750 apprehensions of unaccompanied minors in Arizona. In Fiscal Year 2021 (October 2020) through February, there have been 29,792 unaccompanied minors encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Southwest Border. Of those, 5,704 have been at the Tucson and Yuma sectors.

Those children are not being "expelled," as most single adults or families are, but rather brought to Border Patrol facilities and transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, Mayorkas said Tuesday.

Oftentimes, the child has a family member in the United States who they are reunited with, the statement says.

Still, officials say they are having difficulty housing those minors as they go through the process.

"The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour time-frame for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met. HHS has not had the capacity to intake the number of unaccompanied children we have been encountering," the statement says.

According to the statement, the numbers are expected to rise. Mayorkas says the U.S. could soon see more migrants at the border than in the past 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, President Joe Biden sent a message to those trying to come to the U.S. without proper documentation.

“I can say quite clearly don't come over in the process of getting set up, so don't leave your town or city or community. We're going to make sure we have facilities in those cities and towns run by DHS and also access with HHS, to say you can apply for asylum from where you are right now,” said President Biden.

But Yuma mayor believes it may be too late for that message to get across.

“I do believe it’s a crisis because of the numbers we saw in 2019 and how closely we’re tracking those same numbers today.”

Nicholls invites President Bident to visit Yuma, “it’s difficult to make decisions on what’s happening in an area if you're not at least exposed to that area, so putting eyes on it, is extremely important and I welcome the president to come to Yuma to see that at any time he’s ready to go.”