NOGALES, Ariz. – Mattresses, portable toilets and showers were brought in Saturday for 700 unaccompanied minors who spent the night sleeping on plastic cots inside an Arizona warehouse, a federal official said.
The Homeland Security official told The Associated Press that about 2,000 mattresses have been ordered for the makeshift holding center – a warehouse that has not been used to shelter people in years.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said Friday that conditions at the center are so dire that federal officials have asked the state to immediately ship medical supplies to the center in Nogales.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security started flying immigrants 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 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 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 warehouse began housing children flown from South Texas on May 31.
Federal authorities plan to use the Nogales facility as a way station, where the children will be vaccinated and checked medically. They will then be sent to facilities being set up in Ventura, California; San Antonio; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Brewer sent an angry letter to President Barack Obama on Monday demanding that the program of dropping off families at bus stations in Phoenix stop immediately. She called the program dangerous and unconscionable.