With the new immigration policies put in place by the Biden administration, border towns in Arizona say they’re facing some challenges as border patrol starts dropping off immigrants in communities like San Luis.
“It started two weeks ago when we first heard of a group being dropped off at an old staple's building. They’re lost,” stated Emma Torres, the executive director for Campesinos sin Fronteras.
Torres says border patrol agents are overwhelmed, so to avoid drop-offs at random places, Campesinos sin Fronteras along with other nonprofits and volunteers took it upon themselves to create a community support network. But they’re running out of resources.
“These individuals are not the usual asylum seekers that we have had in other years, these are Cuban, Brazilians, people from Africa, Haiti, Romania, from different places. They don’t speak English and they’re totally lost. They don't know where they’re at,” said Torres.
She says they’ve been helping more than 500 immigrants so far, “children with no jackets, no shoes sometimes and pregnant women as well, some with a 3-month-old baby, a three-day-old baby.”
She says as soon as the community noticed the need, they began calling for help in shelters and churches in California, Phoenix and Tucson. But due to the pandemic, not everyone has been willing to help.
“Through Senator Kelly's support, we were able to connect to different groups. Casa Alitas in Tucson, Galilee Center in California are helping, and we just had about 50 being transported to Phoenix,” said Torres.
We contacted a church in Phoenix confirming they’re preparing to start receiving asylum seekers next week.
So why is the border patrol releasing migrants on the streets?
ABC15 reached out to border patrol in both Tucson and Yuma sectors. The Yuma sector referred us to the Department of Homeland Security and we’re still waiting on the Tucson sector.
The Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council, Art Del Cueto says, they can’t hold migrants for more than 72 hours nor do they have the space to.
“The border patrol does the processing, but after that ICE is the one that takes over everything else and finding out the housing, so ICE is the proper one to contact to say, “‘hey what’s going on.’”
ABC15 contacted US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they told us via email we needed to contact border patrol.
In the meantime, the responsibility has fallen in the hands of the community. But the burden is growing. Torres says they went from helping 50 to now 100 asylum seekers daily.
“The struggle is that here in rural communities we don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have shelters or places to help people in their transition. Because of COVID, only one church was able to open their doors temporarily to provide shelter to some of these individuals,” added Torres.
She says they’re in desperate need of money to continue buying food, snacks, water, diapers, and to pay for hotel and transportation.
“Just the bus is about $1,500 per trip and we have been doing up to seven trips per week,” stated Torres.
That’s because there is no shelter near the area, so asylum seekers need to get transferred to shelters in San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson. Once at the shelters Torres says they get help to coordinate their flights for family reunifications which are usually to states like Florida, NY, and Texas.
“Once we see these families, it is heartbreaking to see their faces and the children that they’re carrying in their arms,” stated Amanda Aguirre, the director of the medical center providing COVID-19 testing to the asylum seekers.
She says she spoke to the border patrol chief in the Yuma sector to come to an agreement for her clinic to provide COVID-19 testing to the migrants released. Through Senator Kelly’s office, she says the nonprofits came to an agreement with border patrol to release the migrants to them instead of out on the streets.
“We’re very grateful that border patrol is collaborating with us to be able to get to that point,” said Aguirre.
But now other border towns like Gila bend are raising questions.
“Tuesday, our town manager was informed that Gila Bend was one of two communities being used to drop off migrants that have been held for 72 hours under the new executive order,” said Gila Bend Mayor Chris Riggs in a video uploaded to Facebook over the weekend.
Riggs said, “ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not able to give us a count of the number of people or even how often this will occur. At this point, we must assume the drops will occur on a rotating basis between our community and Ajo.”
Meanwhile, immigration lawyer Ezequiel Hernandez says it’s important to not miss informing the community.
“It doesn’t mean that they’re free. They’re being released so they’re not in jail essentially waiting for their asylum. There’s still a process that has to go through an immigration judge and they still may not win those cases. Many won’t show up, many will. But it’s not just released on the streets that people don’t know where they are.”
However, mayor Riggs points out public safety.
“Criminal history of these people is unknown at this point as well as medical conditions.”
Hernandez says everyone released from border patrol custody has been under extensive background check.
“There are two factors, usually the federal government has already vetted these individuals; they already ran their prints and biometrics to confirm whether their database has any criminal activity,” said Hernandez.
As far as medical conditions, Aguirre says, from the more than 600 people they have tested, only six people were positive and those testing positive stay in quarantine in a hotel room until they’re clear to be tested again.
To help with the efforts of the San Luis community, visit: https://campesinossinfronteras.org.