I toured the facility in Nogales this morning. Among the group that Congressman Raul Grijalva invited were a Presbyterian pastor from Tucson, a minister from Phoenix, an RC priest from Tucson, an ACLU lawyer, an Office of Refugee Resettlement lawyer, some community leaders from Tucson, and the Congressman and his staff.
I was impressed with how orderly everything seemed. We entered through the play areas where girls were kicking soccer balls, and saw the process the kids went through to get new clothes and get showered. The kids I saw were all pretty clean and wearing the dark blue gym shorts and white t-shirts that they all have. We were taken through the initial processing area, and there were about 3 dozen children awaiting processing. When we inquired about medical issues, we were told that in the initial screening if any are identified with extraordinary needs, they're quickly transitioned into the Office of Refugee Resettlement process. This includes children with any acute physical and mental health needs, and young women who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
We got to go back into the various holding areas, each of the partitioned sections for children, saw the phone banks in action supported by Red Cross volunteer translators, children meeting with consular officials, and a BP chaplain (in plain clothes) circulating amongst the children and chatting with them. None of the children that I saw seemed in any distress. Mostly they looked bored. I tried to keep a tally, and I saw at least 500 children while I was there. All the workers - BP agents, contract workers, Americorp volunteers, Red Cross, - all seemed pretty mellow. Nobody seemed stressed at all. Something that impressed all of us present, was that all the CBP agents volunteered for this duty. None are assigned. The Congressman was especially impressed by this. The sense I got was that everyone was there for the kids. They stressed that they all saw this as the humanitarian crisis that it is. Seeing all the children there together in this less than ideal situation, it would take the hardest of hearts not to want to do their best for them.
All in all, it seems they're taking care of this much better than many of us would have expected. I was overwhelmed emotionally by the sheer numbers of children and thinking of what it's taken for them to get to this point. We brought up the point about regular pastoral care, but they've already got bilingual BP chaplains in place, and I don't think that request will go anywhere. The Congressman seemed satisfied with the care they were getting. I will try to get in periodically, and I've been told that now that there is a protocol for receiving visitors, they are open to visits from media and community. The CBP and FEMA officials that toured with us invited our suggestions; they want to continue to improve this for the children.
There doesn't seem to be much, at this point, that the larger church can do, other than to continue to press for just treatment of these children, comprehensive immigration reform, and prayers for peace in Central America. I have been able to establish some "in-house" contacts through which I can assess any needs we might be able to help with. But, the agencies are wary of putting out any calls for donations, and volunteers, as they don't have the personnel to deal with it. Right now, I'm going to be quietly collecting books and playing cards for the children. That seems to be an immediate need.
Thanks for the thoughts and prayers that I know you are sending...I feel it. I draw strength and courage knowing you are there praying for me and these children.
In the peace of Christ,
Fr. Ernest Galaz
St. Andrews Episcopal Church