DOUGLAS — With Mexico and the border wall as his backdrop, Gov. Doug. Ducey on Friday called out the Biden administration as being out of touch with the reality of undocumented migrants flowing into the United States, saying the situation on the border is indeed “a crisis.”
Flanked by local elected officials, law enforcement, ranchers and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, Ducey decried the situation on the Southwest border calling it the worst he has seen since he’s been in office.
The governor and Scott, accompanied by a handful of other officials, toured the border Friday morning aboard a Blackhawk helicopter that departed from the Douglas Municipal Airport. The end of Runway 21 at the airport is only 800 feet from the Mexican border.
Federal officials have said over the last few weeks that since April 2020, the numbers of migrants that have been crossing illegally through the Southwest border of the United States have shot up significantly.
The number of unaccompanied children and families seeking asylum by turning themselves in to border officials to be processed has also risen significantly.
According to statistics released last week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the increases were even more staggering between January and February of this year.
Last week, Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, called the situation on the Southwest border of the U.S., “difficult.” Mayorkas said, “We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the Southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
But Ducey and others on Friday called it something different.
“I’m gonna call this situation what it is — a crisis,” Ducey said Friday after the helicopter tour. “This is a man-made crisis caused by elites in Washington, D.C., who are totally divorced from the reality on the ground.”
Ducey was especially harsh on Mayorkas, whom the governor said has been missing from the border.
“It’s clear that this administration has been anti-wall and AWOL,” Ducey said. “Where has the secretary been? This is where the action is, not in Washington, D.C. We need more commitment from Washington to address these needs.”
The governor said he sent a letter to Mayorkas last month underscoring his concern with the Biden administration repealing the Migrant Protection Protocols.
The MPP program instituted under former President Donald Trump had those seeking asylum in the U.S. waiting in Mexico to be processed.
“Law enforcement officials and leaders in border communities are concerned that repealing these protocols have directly resulted in a significant influx of unvetted individuals from Central America into the United States,” Ducey said.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who was part of the group of law enforcement officials at Friday’s event, has also repeatedly called the situation on the border, “a crisis.”
“This is not about politics — it’s truly not about politics — it’s about public safety, national security, humanitarian and a global health pandemic in a rural county,” Dannels said.
A network of over 700 cameras, placed along the border by the Sheriff’s Office in Cochise and other areas, have captured images of undocumented migrants slipping through, he said. The sheriff said the numbers since last March had jumped from about 200 to 300 migrants attempting to sneak in monthly to about 2,000 a month.
State Rep. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford) said she has had undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country illegally on her own property numerous times. She said Friday that she has been receiving calls from constituents who have experienced the same thing and are afraid.
Griffin said the main thing that can be done at her level of government to tackle the situation is to ask Congress for help.
Officials in border communities fear they will see an influx of asylum seekers released from custody and overwhelm local nonprofits, as happened during the 2019 immigration spike. The latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding included $110 million for governments and nonprofits providing humanitarian assistance at the southern border.
That help can’t come soon enough for Douglas Mayor Donald Huish, who said Friday that there has been an “increase in activity” regarding undocumented migrants trying to pass undetected near the city.
“We’re seeing it closer to town and that’s really got me worried,” Huish told the Herald/Review. “(Recently we had) adult males about a mile east of the city.”
Cochise County rancher John Ladd, who also attended the governor’s visit Wednesday, is no stranger to seeing undocumented migrants traipsing through his ranch as they try to make it to State Road 92 where a coyote — human smuggler — is often waiting in a vehicle.
Ladd said that Thursday a horse-mounted unit from the Border Patrol’s Brian A. Terry Station near Bisbee caught 30 undocumented adults on his property “in broad daylight.”
Ducey said his administration would like to “partner with the federal government to improve our immigration system.”
“But so far I’m not encouraged,” Ducey said. “We know it’s going to get dramatically worse before it gets better.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
BISBEE — So far, Cochise Health and Social Services has given 46,006 doses of vaccine, including first and second doses of Moderna and one-shot Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, to county residents and is on track to give another 5,700 doses next week.
County Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator Craig Janiszewski gave Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby the news in the weekly COVID–19 update Friday and told them the one-shot Janssen vaccine was in high demand.
So far, 56.5 percent of people 65 and older and 31.4 percent of people 55 to 64 have been vaccinated, he said.
Though the county has opened up vaccination slots for people 45 to 54, the state registration website has not caught up with the decision and it may be hard for people in that age group to sign up for appointments, he continued. They can call 844-542-8201 and leave a message if they cannot reach a state person to help. The state is supposed to call them back.
“If someone tries to get an appointment and is rejected, they can email CHSS at email@example.com and the county will assist in getting the appointments,” said Janiszewski.
The county’s positive cases of COVID–19 continue to decline with just 68 over the past week recorded, he said. Due to testing, antibodies to the virus are increasingly found in some of the population.
Over the weekend, two large-scale points of distribution for the Moderna vaccine were open, one in Sierra Vista and one in Tombstone, according to CHSS director Alicia Thompson.
The one in Tombstone, which will serve the surrounding areas of Gleason, Elfrida, McNeal and St. David, was determined as an underserved area as vaccination rates have been low, said Thompson. Contact tracer Daniel Williamson did a survey of ZIP codes to find areas of the county with low vaccination rates.
“We want to make data-driven decisions to get the vaccinations out to people,” said Thompson.
Tammy Jo Wilkins, county Emergency Preparedness Specialist, said with the help of Copper Queen Community Hospital, which has a health clinic in Tombstone, 300 appointments were established and another 300 doses were added for walk-ins from outlying communities or anyone within the county who wanted to get the vaccine, Wilkins said. Announcements for the point of distribution were plastered in convenience stores, food banks, post offices and senior centers and posted on social media in advance of the event.
At Buena High School on Saturday, another 800 doses were scheduled, she added.
On March 26, the county will hold a vaccination clinic with 200 slots available for the Janssen vaccine in Willcox at Cochise Community College. Another 100 vaccinations will be available for farm workers.
Thompson said, “We only give the vaccine to people who are residents of Cochise County and our snowbirds. We will not accept people from others counties.”
In order to be sure all areas of the county are included in the vaccination events, CHSS staff will be meeting beginning on March 26, with elected representatives and community members in the county and cities to get their feedback on how to increase the number of vaccinations, said Thompson. An email will carry all the information necessary about the meetings and will go out to all on the county’s list. Four online meetings are planned to make sure everyone has the opportunity to attend as there is a 100-person limit per meeting, and each one will have the same content.