The explosive number of immigrant minors traveling alone and illegally entering the U.S. through South Texas is having a detrimental effect on border security here in Arizona, according to the president of the Local 2544 Border Patrol agents union who spoke with CBS5.
CBS5 has confirmed Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona are being pulled out of the field. Instead of arresting drug smugglers, they are doing paperwork and processing a massive wave of unaccompanied immigrant juveniles who are being housed in Nogales.
Unaccompanied alien children, as they are called by federal officials, have been arriving in Nogales since Tuesday according to Art Del Cueto, President of the Local 2544 Border Patrol agents union.
The office of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was told Friday almost 1,200 children would be expected in Nogales before the end of the weekend; 367 kids arriving each day on Saturday and Sunday.
Sources tell CBS5 those numbers are understated and could be closer to 500 each day.
The children are being detained in a non-descript warehouse that Customs and Border Patrol formerly used as a processing facility, but it has been dormant for several years.
Nearly a thousand children slept there Friday night, most of whom are considered Other Than Mexican (OTM). They traveled from a variety of countries in Central America and were caught crossing the border in South Texas.
The infrastructure there has been overwhelmed in dealing with a recent surge of immigrants and that's why federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been busing adults and families to Phoenix and now, flying children into Tucson and busing them to Nogales.
"They go through screenings and health and welfare checks. There's agents there 24, seven watching these people. They're getting fed at least four times a day," said Del Cueto. "It's a detention facility it's not a hotel."
Del Cueto represents agents who work in the Tucson sector which includes Nogales. It is his fellow agents who are keeping watch over those juveniles instead of patrolling their zones.
"We're putting in jeopardy the security of our border especially in Arizona," he said.
The Tucson sector accounts for 60 percent of all the drug seizures in the U.S. according to Del Cueto. Fewer agents in the field means fewer people to stop drugs from pouring into Arizona.
Del Cueto says it's also a safety concern for agents.
"They're putting them in a bad position. You're diluting agents in the field so less agents are there for possible back up," he said.
Capacity for the warehouse location in Nogales is about 1,800. It could be full before the end of the weekend. It is only supposed to be a temporary stop for the unaccompanied children. After being processed, the kids are being flown to military bases in Texas, Oklahoma and California where they'll be held indefinitely.
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