The legislation would reduce mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses and largely ban solitary confinement for juveniles.
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Guatemala this week to meet with leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador about the wave of unaccompanied children coming across the U.S. Mexico border from those Central American countries.
Border patrol agents are finding children as young as 4, with notes pinned on their clothing with instructions on how to contact relatives in the U.S.
In the past week, about 1,000 children have been sent to live at holding facility in Nogales, Arizona. Arturo Garino, mayor of Nogales, wonders who is responsible for the welfare of these children.
Garino tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that unaccompanied children should not be deported if there’s no one to receive them.
On the children at the holding facility
“These children are traveling by themselves. There are children under 4 years old. I had an opportunity to talk to the children when I was there. I talked to two little girls ranging maybe 9 and 10 years old, that were looking at me a lot. I approached them and asked if they were doing okay they said yes, but that they felt sad. Estoy triste. I said why? I thought that maybe something had happened there. They said no, that they were sad because they missed their parents. Were their parents here in their country of origin or here in the United States? I don’t know.”
On having heard the number of children may exceed 70,000 by the year’s end
“This is a planned exodus of children from those countries thinking that they are going to be able have an opportunity here in the United States to stay here. That is why I think we as a government and Congress should go and find out exactly what happening over there. Because if something is happening and somebody is informing these children or these parents that if they send their child to the United States they’re going to become U.S. citizens or get an opportunity to stay here, we need to address that.”
On how to move forward
“I don’t think that children should be deported at this age back to their countries if there is nobody over there to receive them. Are we going to be responsible as the United States for the welfare of these children? Those are my concerns right now. I want to make sure that the children are okay. They’re here now. I don’t want to create a bigger problem. We should find a solution for this.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Guatemala this week to meet with leaders of that country as well as Honduras and El Salvador about the wave of unaccompanied children coming from those countries through Mexico and across the U.S. border. Patrol agents are finding children as young as four years old with notes pinned on their clothing with instructions on how to contact relatives in the U.S. And photos of their detention in overcrowded border patrol facilities have made headlines. In just the past week, about 1,000 children have been sent to live in a warehouse in Nogales, Arizona that has been called substandard. Arturo Garino is mayor of Nogales. He joins us via Skype. Mayor, welcome back to HERE AND NOW.
ARTURO GARINO: Thank you very much for having me.
HOBSON: Well, journalists have not been allowed into this warehouse. You have been to visit the children there. Describe what it's like.
GARINO: Well, what it is - it's actually the border patrol station and very large building. I want to save section where the children are at very close to -- the same 100,000 square feet. It's been divided in sections. Section for girls under 12. And in another section for boys under 12. And they have the other section for boys and girls divided also from 12 to 17. Have an area where they have a medical services to check the children and also I think they vaccinate them if need be. They also have two areas that are separated for cafeteria like tables and chairs for them to eat. They can eat at about 250 at one time both the one time boys and girls. And they have portable bathrooms. With running water. And also portable showers in a laundromat that was broad and also portable. And logistically to tell you the truth it would be a task for anybody to try to get something like that going. Through something.
HOBSON: Comma instead of the conditions there are substandard. Using their substandard?
GARINO: Not really. Know when I visited the first time was on Monday this past week. That was the beginning. And yesterday receiving children on Saturday right before that Monday. And have been that fast of a time when I visited a very good opportunity for them to process the children. One thing that I heard at the time that it was a detention center which actually is not. It's a processing center. And the children are being processed to be able to transport on to other locations. I believe there are three military bases one out for no one in Texas and the other when Oklahoma. But it is a very good place. And I know that there are some room for improvement. Right now as time goes on a lot better. Air more efficient and they are doing their job as efficient as possible. What happened to Nogales and will support a patrol station in such a quick notice.
HOBSON: The more a sense of why that happened -- of why there are so many unaccompanied and undocumented children coming across the border?
GARINO: You know I asked those questions and people don't know exactly what's happening in their countries of origin. My concern was that if you live in Central America you still have to travel all the country of Mexico to get to Texas. So that's another issue that a little concerned his house that happening and why is Mexico allowing it to happen? These children are traveling by themselves. As children under four years old. I had an opportunity children was there to I talked to two little girls ranging maybe nine in 10 years old they were looking at me a lot and I approached him and I said they were doing okay and they said yes. But they felt sad. And I said why? I thought maybe something could happen there. And he said no I'm sad because I miss my parents. So are their parents still in their country of origin or nature in the United States? That I don't know. I did not want to continue the talking to the girls for the reason is that you know it was pretty sad for me. I'm a father and a grandfather. And I couldn't understand how a child 10 years old to travel that Lane -- land and how dangerous it could be free to an adult let alone a child. Is pretty sad.
HOBSON: You don't have any better sense of why there are so many coming over right now.
GARINO: Know. Not really. I think the best what to get that -- I think we need to get our Congress and our federal government to go to these countries and send a committee or something to find out exactly what's happening. Because I have heard our numbers exceeding over 70,000 by the end of the year.
HOBSON: As you know something is country think that the reason is because they expect that the immigration policies are going to be lax. Border protection is going to be lax. And they think of the children may qualify for a program that protects them called deferred action for childhood arrivals. They don't. But unlike Mexican children the US is not going to immediately deport children from Central America.
GARINO: Yes. I've heard of that two because this is one of the questions I asked some friends here at the state. And legislators that came to visit me last. I think that's the case and is a plan exodus of children from those countries thinking that they are going to be able to get an opportunity here in the United States of staying here. That's week that we as a man and a Congress should go and find out exactly what's happening over there because of something's happening in some forming these children in these parents that if they send their child to the United States are going to become US citizens or get an opportunity to stay here we need to address that. And myself I believe immigration reform to a certain extent but not in this fashion. I would rather have things happen legally through the border.
HOBSON: Closely you think that US officials to go down to Guatemala and figure out what's going on. In this country? We be with the kids?
GARINO: I myself feel that I don't think children should be deported at this age back to their country there's nobody there to receive them or we going to be responsible of the United States for the welfare of these children. So those are my concerns right now. I want to make sure children are okay. They are here now. We should not create bigger problem. We should find a way -- a solution for this. And is it here within our country or that there with their country? By these consults from these three country which the children to talk to them whenever they want to because the phone bank that they happen a number of the three consulates. But I don't think we should blame this on the United States just because they are coming to the United States. I know where you know the land of opportunity in the land of immigrants but we also have to be very careful with how we treat these things in the center with children. This is the key thing for. The United States is really or immigration reform were constantly and security is really going to deal with this renown.
HOBSON: Is the mayor of no galas Arizona. Thank you so much for joining us again.
GARINO: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.