NOGALES, Ariz. — The scene looks like a warehouse of humanity.
And that's exactly what it is.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been transporting migrant children apprehended Texas here since June 6, then shipping them on to military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas. The agency would not say exactly how many unaccompanied minors are being housed in this large facility near the U.S.-Mexico border, but the Guatemalan consulate said in the first week more than 1,000 were there, most from Central America.
The number changes daily, and more than 47,000 migrant kids primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have entered the country and been caught since Oct. 1.
The children — all younger than 18 — sit in fenced off areas or lie on mattresses placed on up against the other with a look of intense boredom on their faces. They are divided in holding areas by age and gender.
This is the makeshift way station set up in a Border Patrol detention facility here. Officials are grappling with a surge of unaccompanied minors apprehended crossing the border illegally in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
Border Patrol isn't the only government agency on site. The Federal Emergency Management Agency now is running the entire operation.
At 11 a.m. MST Wednesday, they briefly opened the center up to the media.
The facility itself is enormous, about the size of a football field.
It has 18-foot-high chain-link fences topped with razor wire dividing the children by age and gender, one area for kids 12 and younger, areas each for boys and girls ages 13 to 15, and still more for boys and girls ages 16 and 17. Nylon tarps tied to the fences provide a modicum of privacy between the groups.
The area for 13- to 15-year-old boys appeared to be the largest. A very pregnant teen sat rubbing her belly in the area for 16- and 17-year-old girls.
The entire facility has the feel of the livestock areas at a state fair. Inside it smells of feet, sweat and straw.
But as sad as it is, the children are clothed and fed. They are clean. and the federal Public Health Service is on site conducting medical examinations and giving vaccinations.
Pallets of water, cans of beans, bedding and clothing are available. Officials are doing their best to accommodate dietary needs; Central Americans don't eat flour, so they substituted corn tortillas.
Once every other day, the children here get to go outside for recreation in the hot summer Arizona sun where highs are expected to be 90 degrees Wednesday but 101 degrees by Saturday. A basketball hoop is available, but most just sit and talk.
After recreation, they go to the showers in the large trailers backed up by FEMA to the doors of the facility.
Then they sit, passing the hours until it's their turn to leave.