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Tucson expands emergency response as federal aid for asylum-seekers ends

Tucson leaders are now preparing for the worst. They know that southern Arizona hosts more immigrants and asylum-seekers than any other region along the U.S. border. Officials on Tuesday called it time to expand the city's emergency response team and scale up plans for urgent humanitarian crises.

City Council leaders discussed the plan to strengthen state and federal appeals to Gov. Katie Hobbs and legislative leaders, as well as collaboration with neighboring border states of Texas and California. They were focused on the fast-approaching deadline. In less than a month, federal funding will end, along with support for Pima County's system that shelters and moves thousands of people a day across the border to their next destination. finish.

Everything is on the table, including busing people to Phoenix, where transportation and resources are more readily available.

Mayor Regina Romero spoke about the responsibility of the federal and state governments to ease the strain on the city's resources as more people cross Arizona's southern border seeking asylum.

“Tucson and Pima County should not be left holding the bag,” Romero said.

The conversation during Tuesday's City Council study session comes as the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector faces more migrants than any other country in the country (250,611) between October and January. This is about 50% more than the Del Rio area in Texas and nearly 110% more than the San Diego area in California, making them the next largest area in terms of cross-section. U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.

City of Tucson Emergency Manager Savannah Martinez determines when the expansion of local emergency management teams will begin in anticipation of federal support for humanitarian assistance ending on March 31st. Then he said.

Pima County leaders met in February and decided to stop providing shelter to asylum seekers if federal funds run out.

Since 2019, the county has partnered with Catholic Community Services to provide asylum seekers with shelter, transportation, meals and medical care. These individuals and families are legally processed at the U.S. border and taken to the Casa Alitas Welcome Center in Tucson, typically for about 48 hours, before being transported to areas of the country where they have family or sponsors. Historically, the program has received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tucson's emergency team now includes Pima County's response team, and the city will begin working with the county's health and public safety departments.

“Incorporating their feedback and capabilities will enhance our response plan,” Martinez said.

She asked the city council and mayor to keep in mind that inaction may not be fiscally sound.

“Doing nothing may end up costing more than dedicating some services and a few dollars,” she said.

Martinez said he is developing several plans involving different levels of involvement to compare which approach will have the least impact on the city's budget and resources. She said she is consulting with emergency managers in El Paso and San Diego in developing the plan for Tucson.

The emergency management team is also developing a collaborative communications strategy to inform local residents of what to do and what not to do. Martinez said he is considering alternative drop-off locations for asylum seekers looking to leave Tucson.

“It's not appropriate and it's not ideal to drop people off at bus stops,” Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega said.

Ortega said Romero and Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Adelita Grijalva are working on three joint letters to state and federal officials about the need for assistance after federal funding is cut off. He said he was.

Ortega said Cochise, Santa Cruz, Yuma and Pima counties are co-signing one of these letters to the entire Arizona congressional delegation. The other letter was addressed to U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson on behalf of San Diego, San Diego County, Tucson and Pima Counties. The final letter asks Governor Hobbs to involve state leaders in solving the challenges facing Tucson and southern Arizona.

Martinez said Casa Alitas plans to continue operating at reduced capacity once the federal funding runs out, prioritizing families and people with medical needs.

“We are actively looking at what role other organizations can play in this area,” she said.

They continue to seek local support from groups like the Red Cross and other cities such as El Paso for guidance on how to handle the nearly 1,000 migrant men, women and children dropped off by Border Patrol agents each day. tucson areaspanning 422 miles across southern Arizona from the Yuma County line to the New Mexico state line.

“Our community is incredibly generous, but we need help, and that help should be provided in a way that involves the entire state,” Romero said.

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