Municipalities and non-profit organizations that provide aid to migrants who flock to their areas via Mexico could get reimbursed through a federal program that has earmarked $110 million for that purpose, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly’s office said earlier this week.
Kelly and fellow U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema sent letters to several governmental entities in Cochise County informing them that funds would be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Food and Shelter Program.
The legislators worked together to help secure the funding, Kelly’s office said.
”The COVID-19 Relief Bill includes $110 million specifically to support localities and organizations assisting at the border during the pandemic,” Kelly’s office said in a statement this week. “This funding is provided through the FEMA Food and Shelter Program. In conversations that Senator Kelly has had with border mayors and leaders, this has been a top priority – getting funding to cover the transportation, housing, and other assistance that is being provided.
“On Tuesday, March 9, Senators Kelly and Sinema sent letters to border mayors and county supervisors to lay out a number of provisions in the COVID-19 relief bill, including this one,” Kelly’s office added. “The COVID relief bill with the funding Kelly and Sinema worked to secure was signed into law by Biden last Thursday.”
The mayors of Douglas and Willcox were included in the missives from Kelly and Sinema after both raised concerns about the possibility of a sudden influx of asylum-seeking migrants in their cities. Both mayors — Donald Huish of Douglas and Mike Laws of Willcox — met with officials from their respective Border Patrol stations weeks ago and were told that migrants enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols program who want to seek asylum in the U.S. could be released within their jurisdictions.
Huish said Border Patrol officials at the processing center outside Douglas asked him if the city could absorb migrants seeking asylum, if and when that occurs. At a recent Willcox City Council meeting, the issue was addressed by a Border Patrol agent who told an anxious crowd that asylum-seekers would be sent to the Willcox Border Patrol station for processing only if Border Patrol stations in Nogales, Yuma and Douglas, for example, were at capacity.
Huish and Laws have said their communities do not have the resources to sustain an influx of migrants. Huish said a non-profit organization and a couple of churches in the city have already committed to helping any migrants who come to Douglas. Laws said he spoke to Border Patrol officials a few days after the City Council meeting and was told that the federal agency will try “to bring fewer to Willcox or none.”
Both mayors however, have said that if they do have asylum-seekers released into their communities, they would provide them with as much assistance as possible — food, clothing — and then put them on buses to larger cities where there are more services and resources available. Cochise County Emergency Services officials said they would push to obtain federal funding for transportation vouchers for communities that provide that help.
Kelly’s office said cities or non-profits providing such assistance would be able to get that money back if they apply for reimbursement through the FEMA program.
On Tuesday, Huish, in a telephone message, said Kelly’s office had helped to secure the money and the city is “trying to figure out” what kind of assistance it would provide to migrants.
Willcox City manager Caleb Blaschke said if his community incurs any expenses, “we would look for reimbursements.”
Last week U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they’ve started “processing for migrants with active cases under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) through three ports of entry in California and Texas. CBP officials say they’ve processed 1,500 individuals through this phased program to date.
“Migrants are required to go through a staging and COVID-19 testing process before entry,” CBP officials said. “If individuals appear at the port of entry without going through this process, they are not admitted. CBP also conducts biometric checks to confirm that individuals do not pose a threat to the American public. Anyone who poses a national security or public safety threat is detained and removed according to existing protocols.”
Once Border Patrol officials determine that an asylum-seeking migrant does not have COVID-19 and he or she has no criminal background, they must release that person within 72 hours, the Biden administration has said.
No asylum seekers enrolled in the MPP program have been permitted to enter the U.S. through the Douglas or Naco ports of entry thus far, officials have said.