COCHISE COUNTY — Border communities in Cochise County are preparing for the potential influx of migrants and asylum seekers coming across from Mexico once the federal government allows people to enter through Arizona’s ports of entry, a handful of government officials said Monday.
Officials from Bisbee, Douglas and Willcox have all met with U.S. Border Patrol agents in their respective areas to discuss how to best handle an influx of people if it occurs in their communities. Cochise County’s Emergency Services division also has been included in the discussions regarding the arrival of migrant groups and asylum seekers.
While it’s still too early to determine what assistance the border communities would need, Cochise County Emergency Services Director Judy Lynn said her office — which works closely with the emergency services divisions of each of the cities — is ready to advocate on behalf of the municipalities once the federal government lays out more definitive plans concerning migrants and asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America.
Lynn said there are several avenues that could be taken, but one could include asking state and federal officials for funding that could be used for transportation for those who come to this area.
“(One of the options) is centralizing support services in the larger communities (in the state),” Lynn said. Most of the people we’re talking about are not looking to stay in the border cities [in Cochise County.] They want to go to other destinations.”
Community leaders in the county’s border cities became concerned last month after the Biden administration let hundreds of Mexican asylum seekers into the U.S. on Feb. 19 at ports of entry in Tijuana, Juarez and Matamoros.
While humanitarian officials here and in Mexico told the Herald/Review last week that no migrants or asylum seekers are currently being allowed into Arizona, they believe that will change.
Two weeks ago, Border Patrol agents in Willcox spoke at a city council meeting there to inform the public about the possibility of some asylum seekers ending up at the Border Patrol’s station in that town. That would happen if there’s an overflow at any of the Border Patrol processing centers in Nogales and Douglas.
Border Patrol Agent Alex Blais, who’s in charge of the Willcox station, told the audience at the meeting that if illegal border crossers are released in Willcox, they would most likely be taken to the bus station located at the Texaco, and sent to a larger city.
Blais explained that if migrants are stopped at the border and processed at one of the Border Patrol processing centers, they must be released within 72 hours if they have no criminal record in either Mexico or the U.S.
Willcox city officials stressed at the city council meeting that their community does not have the resources to sustain the influx of people. City Manager Caleb Blaschke said he met with Lynn of Cochise County’s Emergency Services on Monday to determine what kind of preparations and help Willcox could anticipate if Blais’s words come to pass.
Blaschke said he spoke with Lynn about the possibility that Tucson and Phoenix could receive most of the undocumented people and provide support services and resources. The city manager said he would advocate for state/federal funding to provide transportation for them to be sent to larger city centers.
Bisbee and Douglas city officials have also begun preparing for the possibility of an influx as well.
Bisbee Mayor Ken Budge said he met with Border Patrol agents at the Brian A. Terry Station on Naco Highway last week to discuss the issue. Budge said he was assured that at the moment, no undocumented people are being released in Bisbee. But if that occurs, the mayor said a couple of churches in town have committed their resources to helping them.
“The churches would provide them with some food and clothing and hopefully some vouchers (for traveling,)” Budge said.
Budge was told that the Brian A. Terry Station has lately been processing juveniles who have been coming from Mexico, but no adults seeking asylum.
In an email Monday, Michael Hyatt, the Patrol Agent in Charge at the Brian A. Terry Station, said the agency is working with its neighboring communities to come to a solution.
“No such releases have taken place at this time and we are working with our partners in the area to better identify solutions to a potential problem,” Hyatt said. “Any subject amenable to criminal prosecution will be presented for such prosecution and not released.”
Douglas Mayor Donald Huish said he too has met with both Border Patrol and humanitarian organizations in his city. Huish said last week that Border Patrol officials asked him if the city could take illegal border crossers in once they’re processed. Huish said the Border Patrol processing center is three miles outside the city on Highway 80.
“They said they can’t just let the migrants out on Highway 80,” Huish said. “They asked if we could take them in. The Presbyterian church here has offered to help the migrants who come from other countries.”
Officials at Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian bi-national ministry, also said they’re preparing to provide assistance. Huish said he’s also received an assurance from the Consulate General of Mexico in Douglas that their office would help Mexican nationals released in the city.
“We’re also asking for volunteers in the community who want to help,” Huish said.