Arizona readies for influx of migrants at the border with expiration of Title 42
With Title 42 set to expire this week, eliminating a pandemic-era policy that fast tracked migrant expulsions, Gov. Katie Hobbs vowed to partner with local officials to ease the expected strain on border communities.
“The state of Arizona stands ready to assist our border communities…in any way that we can,” she said, during a Monday press conference about the state’s preparedness in the face of the upcoming policy termination.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration implemented Title 42. The policy allowed immigration agents to circumvent the asylum process and turn migrants away more than 2.7 million times, in hopes of reducing the virus’ spread. But the policy is tied to the national declaration of a public health emergency, which ends Thursday.
And without the immigration restrictions in place to deter migrants, Arizona’s border regions are bracing for a surge.
“The influx has already begun,” Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls said on Monday. “About a month ago, we had about 300 people a day in the Yuma sector. Two weeks after that, we had 600. Yesterday, we had 1,000 people.”
U.S. officials estimate numbers will climb to as much as 10,000 migrant encounters a day across the entire southern border, and Arizona, which shares more than 370 miles with Mexico, is among the states that are likely to be most affected.
To address the spike in entries, Hobbs on Monday announced a multipronged strategy to support border communities and nongovernmental organizations, which often aid migrants. Hobbs’ plan includes the creation of a command center made up of NGOs and federal and local agencies, used as a communication hub to develop potential executive actions.
Migrant transportation to other states will also be increased. The program under which that transportation takes place was a holdover from Hobbs’ predecessor, Republican Doug Ducey’s administration, used to score political points, which Hobbs adjusted to bus and fly asylum seekers directly to their out-of-state sponsors.
And the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs will be charged with helping non-governmental organizations provide shelter for migrants. That may entail erecting temporary shelters, helping transfer migrants between shelters or providing emergency funds to keep shelters open.
Exact details, however, on the funding and extent of the transportation and shelter initiatives remains unclear.
“We don’t know the numbers, because we don’t know the numbers. We don’t know what the need is actually going to be, we’re dealing a lot with speculation,” Hobbs said. “We know that today the shelters in Tucson are at capacity and we’re on Monday and this is going to increase on Thursday. So we are going to respond to the need that is on the ground.”
Hobbs is counting on federal aid programs to supplement local efforts. The Democrat sent letters to both the Biden administration and Arizona U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly in April, urging them to back federal funding for federal shelter programs. And last week, Sinema and Kelly announced that $45.4 million of the new Emergency Food and Shelter Program is earmarked for Arizona to supplement the work of border non-profits.
The Biden administration is also planning to deploy as many as 1,500 troops to southern border states to support local immigration agents. Currently, 180 Arizona National Guard soldiers are on hand to help border officials and Hobbs noted she wouldn’t be opposed to sending more if necessary.
But, warned Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos, strength at the border can only go so far. Without meaningful immigration reform and quick action from the federal government, issues in Arizona’s southern region will continue to exist.
“We could put all the uniforms you want on that border,” he said. “The solution lies in the halls of Congress.”
Previous attempts to pass significant changes in immigration policy have met with repeated failure and an effort currently underway to extend Title 42 for two years without predicating it on public health faces an uphill battle.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.