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Gila Bend declares state of emergency as Border Patrol starts dropping off asylum seekers

Mexico US Immigration
Posted at 12:13 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 21:41:31-04

GILA BEND, AZ — The town of Gila Bend has declared a state of emergency after asylum seeking families began to be dropped off by Border Patrol at a park on Monday.

Gila Bend Mayor Chris Riggs says there were 16 people dropped off, most of whom were families with babies and with no way of knowing where they were, without money or food.

Mayor Riggs says no one is helping to come up with solutions, not Border Patrol, nor Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

Reporter: Have you reached out to the Governor’s office?

Mayor Riggs: I have and I have not heard anything back.

Reporter: How did you feel when you saw the governor at the border in Douglas and not here?

Mayor Riggs: Perplexed, I don’t understand why this area is being impacted and not being looked at.

Gila Bend is located about 80 miles north of the U.S. - Mexico border and has a population of 2,000 people, mainly comprised of Hispanic families.

Mayor Riggs describes Gila Bend as a migrant town.

“We work as best we can with the resources we have, but we need help. We desperately need help,” Riggs said.

Riggs said the problem is not the number of migrants that were dropped off this week, but rather the lack of transparency from Border Patrol, since there’s no communication as to how often and how many more people they will drop off and why it’s happening at a park in this town.

“We are a town that has no resources, very limited funding, and they expect us to take control of everything and we just don't have the personnel, the money. We have no shelters here,” stated Mayor Riggs.

He says he had to figure out how to get them to a Phoenix shelter all on his own.

“We couldn’t find anybody to transport them, we called every non-governmental organization, every governmental organization and they kept just telling us we don't have anybody that can help you. I ended up finding two vans that I was able to borrow myself, my wife and two volunteers managed to get them to those shelters,” said Riggs.

But Mayor Riggs is not the only one who feels behind.

“I found out until last night what was happening and only because I watched it in the news,” said Beatriz Fabel.

Fabel is a longtime resident of Gila Bend, having lived in the town since the 80s. However, this is the first time she’s seen migrants dropped off alone right in front of her home.

“It’s really sad to see so many people coming from so far away. They leave their homes to come to a place where they don’t know anybody, we have to treat them with compassion,” Fabel said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Riggs says there must be a better plan.

“It’s not the time to play politics. This is not a political thing, I'm an independent. I do not want politics brought into this. No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on, this is wrong.” said Riggs.

Riggs encourages the community to help put pressure on elected officials to come up with a solution.

“Pick up the phone, call the Governor’s office, tell him to declare a state of emergency. To release those FEMA funds, release any funding he can get and help take care of these people. I know this is not a state issue, it's a federal issue, but we just can’t leave children in the middle of nowhere,” Riggs said.

Mayor Riggs told ABC15 that one of the migrant children dropped off this week asked them if this was Delaware. The child was trying to get there because that’s where their mom is located.

Governor Ducey's office released the following statement:

"The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) is actively monitoring the situation along Arizona’s southern border. Our agency has regular discussions alongside our county, tribal, federal, volunteer and private sector partners about any potential concerns.

We have not received a formal request for resources or assistance from Gila Bend. As a local jurisdiction, Gila Bend may first work through Maricopa County for assistance. If Maricopa County is unable to meet the need for assistance, Maricopa County may turn to DEMA."

ABC15 also reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, but they have not responded to our request.

The town of Gila Bend has a population of 2,000 people and is located about 75 miles north of the U.S. - Mexico border.