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A group arrives early in June at the rear of what was once the Salvation Army Thrift Store, 600 W. Catalina Drive, after being transported to the facility by U.S. Border Patrol personnel aboard USBP vans. The Salvation Army is using the store, which closed in August, as a shelter for migrants crossing into the United States in the Yuma Sector.

The Salvation Army-run shelter for Central American migrant families in Yuma is currently closed, following a drop in the number of asylum seekers and other immigrants crossing the U.S. border in the local Border Patrol sector. 

Capt. Jeff Breazeale said Friday morning the nonprofit agency was sheltering two migrant families in hotel rooms and expected 13 more families to arrive later in the day.

“We’re still continuing the operation of the shelter. We’re just doing it in a hotel. We’re still providing all the same services we did before,” he said. 

This eliminates the cost of keeping the larger shelter, housed in the agency’s former thrift store, open for 24 hours a day, he said. 

Fifteen is about the maximum number of families the Salvation Army can affordably house in the hotel rooms versus the shelter, Breazeale said. The average family size now is one adult and one child, he said, but it can vary. 

General maintenance, including air conditioning service and a deep cleaning, is being done for the building in the meantime. “(We’re) making sure everything is good to go, so we can provide for the migrants the best way that we can,” he said. 

The Salvation Army’s strip-mall shelter opened in March as the number of families crossing the border began to soar, reaching a height of more than 300 people a night in May.

Breazeale said he didn’t know the reasons for the significant drop in migrants needing shelter, or if and when the numbers could rise again. 

He said he is encouraging the Border Patrol to send the larger families they have apprehended at the border so they could be put up at the hotels, “to keep their numbers down” of families detained at Border Patrol facilities. 

Agent Jose Garibay, spokesman for the Yuma Border Patrol Sector, said the number of migrants being detained for illegally crossing the border has dropped by at least half since the peak of 400 or more per day in May. 

“And yesterday we caught less than 100 people, so there’s huge fluctuations in our numbers,” he said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website says the number of people apprehended along the Mexican border as part of a family unit dropped from 84,491 in May to 57,389 in June.

Families were still by far the majority in terms of total border apprehensions in June, as opposed to 30,130 single adults and 7,378 unaccompanied minors. 

The Yuma Sector’s downward trend began in early June, Garibay said, and appears to be tied to the Mexican military’s intervention in the crisis under an agreement with the U.S. government, slowing the flow of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador seeking asylum in the U.S. from violence and poverty at home. 

Garibay said the hotter weather of the summer months is not believed to be as much of a factor because the migrant families are generally traveling in vehicles to the border and don’t try to hide in the desert from border authorities.  

“They’re spending a very minimal amount of time in the elements, because they’re being dropped off at the border many times, and they cross the border immediately, and they’re almost immediately picked up by Border Patrol agents,” he said. 

The Yuma Sector’s just-opened temporary processing facility, next to its headquarters on Avenue A in Yuma, is also relatively empty because of the drop in border crossings, Garibay said, with room for kids to play soccer indoors. 

But that new facility is not the reason fewer families are being released into the Yuma community on their own recognizance and referred to the Salvation Army for shelter and assistance.

By law the Border Patrol can keep families in their custody for only 72 hours. The number crossing the border can now be handled, for the most part, by family detention facilities maintained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division. 

We’re not (releasing families) as much as we were, but that’s simply because traffic has dropped. It’s not because we got a new processing center. So if the traffic shoots up again, and this crisis is continuing, the releases are still going to continue and increase, just like they did before,” Garibay said. 

These Central American families can only be detained by the federal government for a total of 20 days, he pointed out. 

“It’s important to remember that no matter who has these people, they’re going to be released, because they have a child. So it doesn’t matter if we release them, it doesn’t matter if ICE releases them, they’re going to be released anyway.”

As for the families who are still being released in Yuma, Breazeale says the services being provided by the Salvation Army, with help from other nonprofits, remain the same.

Parents and children are provided with food, toiletries, clothing, transportation and other necessities while staff and volunteers contact their sponsors in other parts of the country and set up travel arrangements, a process that on average is still taking three to five days. 

“We’re still using our volunteers to sort clothes and prepare meals, all of that now,” he said. There are a sufficient number to serve the current number of families, versus it being one of their biggest needs at the larger shelter.

Donations of clothing and other items are still needed and can be dropped off at Yuma Community Food Bank, 2404 E 24th St., or Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 505 S. Avenue B.

Monetary donations are also needed and can be made online at https://yuma.salvationarmy.org/yuma_corps.

For more information, call the Salvation Army at 928-783-0181.

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