We don’t blame Benson residents and city officials for voicing concern at a March 22 meeting on the sudden arrival of undocumented minors at a local hotel.
It wasn’t until those concerns were aired that representatives of VisionQuest National LTD, an Arizona-based company, provided local officials with an idea of why they purchased and remodeled the former Days Inn near Interstate 10.
VisionQuest has been awarded more than $10 million by the federal government to house and care for undocumented and unaccompanied minors at its facilities in Benson and at other locations around Arizona. After it acquired the hotel in Benson, the property was immediately fenced off and local residents began asking questions about what was going on at the facility.
The initial silence from VisionQuest was deafening.
Rumors spread fast in small communities, and Benson is no exception. It was a few days after the March 22 meeting when the company eventually reached out to Mayor Joseph Konrad and Sheriff Mark Dannels, inviting them to tour the facility.
After that tour, we have the word of both public officials that the operation appears to be well-kept and the number of illegal minors is fewer than capacity, and only those deemed to be “low-risk,” between the ages of 12 and 17. Their stay at the facility is less than a month and they are not allowed to leave the property.
The initial lack of transparency created alarm among residents, several of whom expressed their concern at the March 22 meeting. One resident questioned whether the teens were being tested for COVID, raising the prospect of increasing the risk for the disease in the community.
Few question the motive of VisionQuest to pursue the federal funds offered to provide this service. Most citizens recognized — whether they agree with the idea of providing hotel accommodations to unaccompanied, undocumented teens or not — that it requires changing the elected decision-makers at the federal level to change the situation in Benson and other communities where this is happening.
Unfortunately, that lack of transparency has been part of the reason people have been riled by the Biden Administration’s handling of the humanitarian crisis happening on the border.
Two months ago a crowd gathered at a public meeting in Willcox, voicing surprise and anger that the U.S. Border Patrol was putting undocumented migrants apprehended by the agency on buses and dropping them off at the Texaco station just off I-10.
Residents, city and other public officials were never notified of plans to “catch and release” the migrants, let alone transport them to Willcox, which lacks facilities to handle these migrants. Similar frustration has been expressed in a letter signed last month by five mayors in Cochise County, including Bisbee, Douglas, Sierra Vista, Benson and Willcox.
“It is unfortunate that the federal government has chosen to enact a policy with no local input, thereby placing a detrimental burden on small, rural communities in Cochise County,” the letter states.
Lack of transparency at the federal level has already been a consistent problem within the newly-elected Biden Administration.