COCHISE COUNTY — Arizona members of Congress are pushing for federal funding that would help cities affected by an influx of asylum-seekers from other countries and provide them with transportation vouchers to areas with more resources.
The offices of U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), and U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, (D-AZ), both said they’re in information-gathering mode with several local, state and federal entities concerning the possible arrival of undocumented asylum-seekers and how that would affect border communities like Bisbee, Douglas, Naco and possibly Willcox.
The local preparations come amid changes from the new administration of President Joe Biden, which has issued several executive orders affecting immigration since taking office two months ago.
Officials in local communities have said that churches and humanitarian groups in their cities have already offered to provide food and clothing for individuals who are stopped at the border and who ask for asylum in the U.S.
But those same officials have repeatedly said they can’t absorb these individuals into their areas indefinitely because they don’t have enough long-term resources.
Arielle Devorah, spokeswoman for Kirkpatrick’s office, said the congresswoman has been talking with state and federal officials about the matter for the last two weeks.
“We’re in information-compiling mode,” Devorah said. “We have been meeting with local officials, the Border Patrol, Casa Alitas Program and Border Counties Coalition.”
“We’re looking to confirm with Border Patrol about taking them (asylum seekers) to transportation centers then to larger cities,” she added.
Under the Trump Administration, asylum seekers were placed in the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) and were sent back to Mexico to await their turn to be processed for asylum in this country.
Under the Biden administration, anyone seeking asylum will be detained for up to 72 hours while authorities check for criminal background. If the person has no record, they must be released in the area where they crossed the border.
The reality is that many asylum-seekers do not want to stay in smaller border communities, officials say, because of lack or resources and because many have friends or family in larger cities.
Officials have discussed, among other ideas, providing asylum-seekers with transportation vouchers so they can get to locations with more resources, or to reunite with their friends and family. But smaller communities and Cochise County itself are not equipped to fund endless transportation vouchers for asylum-seekers, according to numerous officials.
“We’re advocating for more federal funding,” Devorah said.
Kirkpatrick’s office also plans to meet representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement this week, to determine what their plans are and what resources they have available.
Devorah said Kirkpatrick’s office has also reached out the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as a possible funding venue, but Devorah said the congresswoman’s office doesn’t think there are enough resources there.
“It just wouldn’t suffice to help all these migrants,” Devorah said.
A spokeswoman with Sinema’s office said the senator has been speaking with local border officials, non-profit groups and federal agencies to also determine what kind of support is available should asylum seekers rush to Arizona’s border.
Both Sinema and the office of newly-elected U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), “sent a letter calling on DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to send sufficient resources to Arizona to help with asylum seekers and develop a COVID-19 testing strategy for migrants in their care or that they release into communities.”
“Since sending that letter, Kyrsten’s office has stayed in constant contact with DHS to ensure communities and NGOs non-governmental organizations) get their questions answered as quickly as possible and that critical communication and coordination between federal partners and communities is happening,” a Sinema spokesperson said via email.
“Additionally, Kyrsten has been working to ensure federal partners understand the specific Arizona aspects of this challenge and are responding accordingly,” according to the email.
“Kyrsten is strongly pushing for funding to assist communities and NGOs with the safe and orderly reception of asylum seekers and migrants, including funding for transportation.”
Kelly’s office also said the senator spoke with President Joe Biden and DHS about the ongoing issue.
“Our office is in touch with mayors, the Department of Homeland Security and border community partners. Senator Kelly spoke directly with President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas about this issue and urged DHS to put in place the necessary federal resources and communication at the border,” the statement reads.
“Senator Kelly is also working to get support directly to border communities and organizations to ensure a humanitarian response that doesn’t fall on the shoulders of border communities and prioritizes safety and public health.”