Undocumented Immigrant Children in Arizona

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Undocumented immigrant children from Central America have been brought from southern Texas to Nogales, Arizona. Tony Banegas, Honorary Consul to Honduras in Arizona talks about the situation.

Richard Ruelas: Yesterday Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made his first visit to the Arizona facility housing mostly central American children caught crossing the border illegally. He says he will continue to discourage parents from sending their kids to the U.S. With me tonight to talk about what is happening in Nogales is the honorary consul to Honduras, here from Arizona, Tony Banegas. Thanks for joining us. You've spent time in Nogales, you've seen this firsthand. What's it like down there?

Tony Banegas: It's quite an experience. You have to be there to see it. I'm glad the media was allowed to go in last week.

Richard Ruelas: Do those pictures do it justice?

Tony Banegas: Not really. I was there eight days, from June 7th through the 15th, I spent eight to hours a day. You have to be there. I cannot describe it to you in words. They don't allow to you take pictures, but it's quite a deal to see 1,300 children plus 200 adults, the guards that work at the facility, so it's quite a sight to see.

Richard Ruelas: And more -- Something you've done that reporters didn't get to do was actually talk to these kids. In general, what are we hearing? Why are they coming here, what did they expect would happen when they arrived?

Tony Banegas: Well, I've been asked that question many times. I can tell you my experience after talking to over 400 children from Honduras anywhere from 6 to 17 years old. They're coming -- 95 % of the children I talked to have a parent here in the U.S. And it's about 10 to 15% have both parents in the U.S. Some have nothing, their parents, in 15 years some don't even know their parents, which I think is a sad story. Mom left when they were a year old, or even six months old. But they tell me, based on my conversations, they're coming to go to school. They're getting ready to go to high school, eighth, ninth grade, and they come in to be reunited with their parents.

Richard Ruelas: Like now this is the -- Do you think this was the plan for some of these families, this was the plan all along? That I'm going to cross and when you're old enough to make the walk -- the journey -- on your own, you can do it?

Tony Banegas: That's what I hear. There's stories, a lot of stories in the media that -- rumors maybe the border was open to minors, and again, I can only tell you what I hear from the ones I spoke to. The parents sent for them this time. And they're here to meet their parents. A lot of times for the first time, many time for the first time.

Richard Ruelas: What we also hear is the fleeing -- that they're fleeing violence. And I mean, how bad is the situation in Honduras? You were just down there in May to visit your parents.

Tony Banegas: I go there three or four times a year. What I tell folks is you can Google Honduras, you can see the statistics. You know, there's no secret that we have the dubious title having the most dangerous city in the world, San Pedro Sula, worse than Juarez and Baghdad. So we do have a lot challenges. One of the things I asked when I interviewed the children, if they come from one of the two largest cities, I'd ask the neighborhood, because I know some of the neighborhoods would face a lot challenges.

Richard Ruelas: Right, the good pockets, the bad pockets.

Tony Banegas: So I would ask those questions, but they all come from lower Honduras. I'm fortunate enough that I know Honduras pretty well, so they come from all over, from east, west, south, central, small communities, urban communities. All over the place.

Richard Ruelas: So you think they're not all fleeing violence. They're not all coming here scared.

Tony Banegas: No. That's the misconception I think. There are some that were well behaved children, attending school, they live with an aunt or grandma, or some family members. So the great majority are again good kids. That want to see their parents; they want to go to school.

Richard Ruelas: I guess for two things that you have with you that I guess bring perspective to this, I know you probably can't show this to the camera because it contains phone numbers, but this book that you have in front of you has your interviews with these children. You have names, have you have phone numbers, you have addresses. And I guess if maybe you can flip through and -- give an idea of how many people --

Tony Banegas: You know the process; I would bring ten at a time to the cell that I was given to. I would tell them, you know, what's happening because you have to understand these children have gone through a lot. Five to 15 days on the bus, to spend five days in Texas, in a cold prison, then five days in Nogales, so would I ask the length of time they spent in Texas and also in Nogales, I would ask if they came by themselves, they would tell me some stories that we don't have time to go into, some remarkable stories. I would ask who they live with in Honduras, grandma, uncle, and then I ask who they have here in the U.S. And they would tell me their mom or dad, and the amazing story, they all even as young as 8-years-old they remember the phone number of their mom.

Richard Ruelas: And I guess one thing as I just flipped through, this starts -- this is a calendar you started. This starts in January and ends in June. Just name after name, address, phone number.

Tony Banegas: Some interesting factors about children, their parents, you know, documenting exactly what -- where they're coming from, where they're going. Some have amazing stories. Somebody who was kidnapped for four days, and they'll tell me the story, I was kidnapped and kept for four days in a house, not knowing what's going to happen. Some amazing stories.

Richard Ruelas: The other thing you brought is the blanket. This is the blanket we've seen on TV. It's in that little packet.

Tony Banegas: Yes. It's a disposable blanket. They get this every day, when I first arrived on Saturday the 7th, there was -- they were still on the floor, there were no mattresses. They were sleeping on the floor and would get these blankets. So when I come in the morning, it's a sight to see when you see a thousand of children in the morning at 8 o'clock, all you see is their little heads sticking out of these blankets, some asleep. But this is what it looked like.

Richard Ruelas: Is this what they expected when they came?

Tony Banegas: Absolutely not. I was telling you earlier, children all over the world expect to be treated differently because they're children. And that's one of the amazing stories, one of the many stories I have, that I would -- I was helping explain what happened, but they expected to be treated differently because they're children. Children expect to be treated well.

Richard Ruelas: How long do you think we will continue to see children in these numbers? Try to make this journey?

Tony Banegas: I wish I could tell you next week. Unfortunately more children are coming in daily, about 140 come in still to Nogales. The good news there are also 140 leaving for shelter daily, but I know there are things in place on the border, on the U.S. border and also in Honduras, trying to stop the flow of children. So there are different measures being taken right now to stop the flow. So I hope by the next 3 months, 6 --

Richard Ruelas: What are some of those measures? I mean, is it -- We had Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson from this country, this week send a message saying don't come, you can't stay. You'll be deported. Is that going to work?

Tony Banegas: Well, probably not. It's a very complex -- Vice-president Biden was in Guatemala three days ago, went and met with the president of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and to stress that we have a campaign to let parents know that the border is not open. They need -- They don't need to take the chance. So that is just part of the issue. But the big thing is this challenge, the desire from children to be with their parents. How do you control that? They're creating economic conditions in our country so the children stay there and the parents stay there. So it's very complex. And it will take time before it settles down.

Richard Ruelas: But it also sounds like you're saying this is not just simply conditions in the country that are driving this, that for some of these families you talked to, this has long been the plan.

Tony Banegas: It has been the plan. A lot of the families I talked to, they've been here for a long time, they have what is called a TPS, which is a legal status for Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch, it's temporary, but they've had it for 12 years. Some become residents, by marriage or by some legal way they became residents, so they do have legal status and they think it's time right now to bring their children and to reunite with their children.

Richard Ruelas: But is there a process that allows that legally, do the parents know the immigration system enough to think that if I bring my kid here, he's going to stay, or are stories about the deferred action program and sort of the leniency the administration is showing, is that sending the signal that this is the time to come up?

Tony Banegas: Probably both. There are nonprofit institutions throughout the U.S. that can help them with this -- to go through the process. Probably both, a little bit of both.

Richard Ruelas: When we -- I guess when people see the images and see the blankets on people, they feel they want to -- If they want to help, what would you -- What would be your advice if there's Americans seeing these images who think those are kids, the legal system will deal with them, but I want to help them while they're in this facility. Is there anything Americans can do?

Tony Banegas: You know, I've been getting a lot of calls and emails from people. Again, out of this tragedy that's one good thing that I've seen. I'm not surprised. A lot of good people want to help. Unfortunately, there's nothing they can do right now. This is a detention facility. Access is very restricted.

Richard Ruelas: We can't send in board games or blankets or food?

Tony Banegas: They're allowing some goods and -- But very limited basis. There was a challenge we had with the management because the mayor in Nogales was ready the second day to bring clothing and shoes, and they were not allowed, they were saying they had their own vendors. So after a week later, they finally allow clothing and shoes to come in. But to your question, there's nothing that can be done at this point. From here now they go to a shelter, wherever there's an open bed, in New York or in Los Angeles, San Antonio. And then they'll go hopefully the decision will be made to reunite, or deportation.

Richard Ruelas: And lastly, do you think the government should have anticipated this situation? Or was this something that was a surprise?

Tony Banegas: I wouldn't want to speculate. I can tell you by asking the parents, they told me this is the right time, they were saving to bring their children here, a small percentage maybe have heard this rumor there was some leniency on the laws. So again, it's very complex.

Richard Ruelas: Tony Banegas, thank you very much. Honorary, by the way we should mention means unpaid volunteer. So, we really appreciate you're taking the time to speak with us.

Tony Banegas: Thank you very much for having me tonight.

Tony Banegas:Honorary Consul, Honduras in Arizona;

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