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Sinema, Kelly push to fund Casa Alitas migrant shelter before ‘street releases’ at the end of March

As Pima County prepares to end protections for asylum seekers after federal funding dried up at the end of March, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly announced that as part of their Homeland Security bill, He asked Congress to provide an additional $752 million in funding.

Almost two weeks ago, Pima County Executive Jan Lescher warned of “homelessness on steroids” and said the county had until March 31st (Easter Sunday) to remove asylum seekers after federal funding dried up. told the supervisory board that it would be forced to discontinue protection of

Pima County officials have repeatedly told Washington, D.C., that they need additional funding to cover shelter operations, but it takes about $1 million a week to evacuate the 1,000 people who arrive each day. costs. But Congress has so far rejected this year's funding for shelter and services programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

RELATED: Pima County runs out of money to protect immigrants, what's next?

The Senate border bill (negotiated by Democratic independent Sinema with the help of Republicans and Democrats) included nearly $1.4 billion to cover SSP, but former President Donald Trump overruled the bill. The attack stalled that effort, prompting talks between the Senate and Democrats. House Republicans, including Rep. Juan Siscomani, are out of step.

“Border security and control is a duty of the federal government, but Washington has neglected this duty for decades, leaving the burden of the border crisis on border states and localities,” Sinema and Kelly wrote. ing. “Without this funding, border communities like Arizona will continue to be forced to deal with a crisis they did not cause, provide critical services to their residents, or deal with the aftermath of a border crisis. You will be forced to make an impossible choice.”

Current funding from 2023 has been “nearly fully depleted, with some grant recipients scaling back operations and putting migrants at risk of being released onto the streets of local Arizona communities.” , the senators wrote. “Given these circumstances, the program's grant recipients are struggling to continue providing critical assistance to keep migrants and their communities safe, with shelters facing financial hardship or ceasing operations. “We need an infusion of federal funding to ensure that we are not forced to do so, which would shift even more of the burden to border communities.”

In a Feb. 16 memo to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Lesher said, “Pima County already has a difficult homelessness problem, and we are working tirelessly to resolve and alleviate it.” ” he wrote. Homeless while using steroids. ”

With funding shortages looming, some local leaders are making dramatic proposals to encourage further federal action, such as sending migrants to military bases in the region. Lesher told the Tucson City Council it was time to “sound the alarm” on the issue. Meanwhile, Douglas Mayor Donald Huesch said the situation was “quickly becoming desperate” and local residents were in “complete shock” as the funding cliff approached.

Tucson is a transit point for asylum seekers who erratically traverse Arizona's vast wilderness, seeking protection in the United States from responding Border Patrol agents. It is limited by immigration law, a range of court restrictions, departmental logistics, and U.S. Customs. Border Patrol and other federal authorities then released the migrants from custody and allowed them to travel to other parts of the United States while pursuing their asylum claims.

And for nearly five years, Pima County has been trying to avoid “street release” of immigrants after being processed by CBP, partnering with Catholic Community Services to provide shelter to 405,003 people at a shelter in Tucson. There is. Additionally, since last September, a Pima County effort supported by state emergency managers has transported thousands of people dropped off by CBP in Cochise and Santa Cruz counties.

In his memo, Lesher wrote that federal funding for legally processed asylum seekers will be exhausted by the end of March.

“I hope that Congress will pass the Border and Immigration Act and provide the additional funding needed to continue our multi-agency efforts to protect border communities in Tucson and other areas. Thank you for your support,” Rescher wrote. “My understanding is that there is a slim, if not zero, chance that further funding will be approved in the coming weeks.”

“This is not surprising,” said Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik. “The county has been saying this for months and the funding is going to dry up.”

“And this should come as no surprise to anyone in Washington, D.C., but there is a group of people who are simply using immigration as a political weapon,” he said. “They don't really care about this. Maybe they're looking forward to seeing the chaos in the streets to say, 'This is what the Biden administration has brought us.' ”

“What are the plans? There are no plans right now,” Kozachik said.

'Particularly important' funding for Santa Cruz and Cochise counties

Tuesday, Cinema and Kelly I sent a letter to the leaders Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees seeking funding to cover SSP said the funding would “ensure that rural border communities on the front lines of the crisis are not overwhelmed by the growing influx of migrants.” It is particularly important to do so.”

“Communities and charities in Arizona's borderlands are stretched to the limit as the federal government continues to take over functions,” they wrote, noting that funding dried up last year, leading Pima County and others to “shrink operations. “There is a risk that migrants will be released,” he added. On the streets of a local community in Arizona. ”

“Given these circumstances, the program's grant recipients are struggling to continue providing critical assistance to keep migrants and communities safe,” they wrote. “An infusion of federal funding is needed to ensure shelters do not face financial hardship or be forced to cease operations, which would shift additional burdens to border communities. ”

“To avoid a catastrophic situation, Congress must reaffirm its commitment to border states, local governments, and nonprofits by providing significant SSP funding in the final FY 2024 Homeland Security appropriations bill.” This will ensure the federal funds needed to respond humanely and appropriately to a border crisis they did not cause. ”

Thousands of people have been released into the county by CBP over the past five weeks, with the county admitting a record 10,187 people in one week in mid-December. Of those, nearly 6,100 were families who arrived in the U.S. with children, and the rest were single adults.

In January, CBP officials encountered
176,205 people. This includes 124,220 people who entered the U.S. between border crossings, as well as thousands of people who entered the U.S. through border crossings after making an appointment on the agency's CBP One app. It will be done.

Border Patrol agents in the Tucson area, which stretches from the Yuma County line to the New Mexico border, encountered more than 50,000 people in January, the most in the nation. About 53% were families with children or children traveling without a parent or guardian, and nearly 28,000 were from Mexico, including hundreds fleeing gang violence in Sasabe, Sonora state. Ta.

Border Patrol has been encountering people across the Arizona-Mexico border, including thousands in the remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, about 190 miles southwest of Tucson, on ranches and in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. There are also several hundred just south of the animal sanctuary.

Both wildlife refuges are marked for miles by a wall of 30-foot-tall “bollards” built as the Trump administration rushed to build fencing along the southwest border. But the migrants managed to climb over a rusty metal wall. At Organ Pipes, settlers relied on cutting steel, rope ladders, or sluices set into the walls to keep them from collapsing during monsoon storms. Along the southern edge of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, people walked past unfinished sections of the wall or crawled through gaps near Fresnal Peak, despite December and January's cold rain and snow. .

“Take another photo”

In a floor speech Thursday, Kelly criticized Senate Republicans for “walking away” from the bipartisan agreement. “After decades of crisis after crisis at the border, we had a chance to be in the Senate to actually do something about this issue. We had a real opportunity, and with the president's signature, “There was a real bill ready to be passed.” The 400-page bill includes provisions that would add technology to ports to intercept fentanyl, provide funding for 1,000 more Border Patrol agents, and provide funding for 1,000 more Border Patrol agents if the White House denies asylum claims and the border closes. It included a series of changes that allowed people to be expelled instantly. I was overwhelmed. ”

“A group of House Republicans visited my state on what they called a 'fact-finding tour.' Do we need more facts? Does that mean it's bad? Of course it is,” Kelly said. . Ciscomani held an “oversight on-site hearing” in Sierra Vista on February 8, despite the objections of Congressman Raul Grijalva, who criticized the timing of holding the hearing during a scheduled Democratic Party convention.

The Grijalva area covers most of the Arizona-Mexico border.

“It could have passed if Border Patrol agents had the resources and personnel and policy changes from a bipartisan border bill,” Kelly said. “That would have helped them. But the people who went on that trip didn't want to vote for that bill. So, no, this wasn't a fact-finding tour. It was just a photo op. was.”

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