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Arizona’s Immigration Crisis: Finding a solution at the US-Mexico border

KTAR News 92.3 continues to cover the situation at the Arizona-Mexico border. This week is a special series on Arizona’s Immigration Crisis. This is part four. Here are parts one, two and three.

PHOENIX – Build the wall. Expand the ports. Change asylum laws. Find more immigration judges.

To the U.S. Border Patrol agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, city mayors and business leaders, volunteer workers and other stakeholders, these solutions seem simple to stop the Central American migrant surge impacting communities in Arizona and across the country.

It’s up to the U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump to change the laws and expand facilities and resources to deal with migrants claiming asylum and reasonable fear of returning to their home countries.

That’s where things become difficult, and perhaps impossible.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey believes politics get in the way.

“I would say, unfortunately, outside of Arizona and inside the United States Congress, the 2020 presidential campaign has already kicked off and this is wrong. These election cycles last way too long,” Ducey added, referring to candidates trying to get more votes based on how they would vote on solutions to the current border crisis.

MUCH UPON WHICH TO AGREE

Elected officials for Arizona, both Democrats and Republicans, agree there is a “humanitarian” crisis at the border.

“In Tucson, Arizona, the major providers of shelter and support are at capacity, if not over,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-District 3). “A community like Lukeville is not prepared to deal with 393 kids and parents.”

Grijalva was referring to the group that surrendered to Border Patrol agents near the Lukeville Port of Entry on Tuesday.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-District 8) said the situation is not only a problem for Arizona cities and towns, but the migrants themselves.

“This is not only a crisis for the United States, it’s a humanitarian crisis for the migrants that are traveling here and are being exploited by the cartels,” Lesko said.

On Wednesday, Customs and Border Patrol tweeted that it has already surpassed last fiscal year’s total apprehensions along the Southwest border: 414,000.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-District 5) says people who don’t believe this is a crisis only see “a trickling” of migrants. But they add up.

“It’s kind of like the frog and the boiling water,” Biggs said. “You put a frog in cool water and then let the temperature rise and they don’t notice it. We’re kind of in that state.”

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski sees a crisis, as migrants are increasingly left to fend for themselves upon release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He wants ICE to modify its policy to coordinate transportation for migrants to their families and friends already in the U.S.

“Instead of just throwing them on the street and saying, ‘Good luck, find your sponsor.’ That’s wrong. Very wrong,” Nowakowski said.

Tuesday night, Yuma mayor Doug Nicholls signed an emergency declaration, asking for federal dollars to help public and private agencies provide food and temporary shelter to newly released migrants. Phoenix is not considering an emergency declaration, according to Nowakowski.

Along the border, politicians on both sides want to give more money for law enforcement to catch drugs and violent criminals among the migrants.

“You have to incentivize people to stay and get trained and remain Border Patrol agents,” Biggs said. “Right now, we have thousands of vacancies.”

Like the representatives and councilman, Ducey fears the generosity of nonprofits helping newly released migrants could run out at any moment.

“It’s time to quit playing politics on this and to actually take action like we have in Arizona,” he said.

MANY DISAGREEMENTS, TOO

Lesko said she co-sponsored a bill last year that would have provided funding for a border fence, tightened asylum laws to discourage migrants from traveling thousands of miles to enter the U.S. and also give recipients of DACA, the Obama-era executive order that protects migrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation, legal status.

“Unfortunately, the Democrats who have always said that they want to help the DACA recipients, not one of them voted for it,” she said.

In March, a group of Democrats in the House introduced the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. Rep. Greg Stanton (D-District 9) co-sponsored the bill, which would allow DACA recipients and immigrants with temporary humanitarian protections to apply for permanent legal status. However, this bill did not include funding for a border fence.

Meanwhile, Grijalva wants no changes to asylum laws.

“Our asylum law is based on international law,” he claimed. And he believes Trump’s threat to punish Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — especially by cutting U.S. funding and resources there — will only exacerbate the crisis.

“Refugee status application centers were established under the Obama administration in those countries,” Grijalva recalled. “People could go there and go through the credible fear process. Those were one of the first things the Trump administration closed.”

Biggs put forth a bill last year to tax remittance payments — when U.S. families wire money to relatives in Mexico — in order to get that country to stop allowing migrants to freely move to the border.

He claims it’s a $30 billion industry annually.

“The threat of doing it makes Mexico stand up and pay attention,” Biggs said.

Grijalva would rather invest more U.S. dollars in Mexico.

“For them to be able to begin the credible fear process … for them to be able to provide relief (for migrants) at their ports of entry,” he said. “They have less infrastructure than we do.”

And even if Congress changed asylum laws to, for example, allow ICE to detain migrant families longer than 20 days for investigation, Grijalva doesn’t believe they’ll stick.

The 20-day limit refers to the Flores Agreement, the 1997 settlement which prevents family units from being detained for more than 20 days.

“You’ve had judges, time and time again, that have rejected any effort on the part of those laws being changed unilaterally of this administration,” he said.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-District 4) says Congress must still try, especially when it comes to children being trafficked with adults who are not their parents.

“Even if you have a person that is a criminal, we can’t incarcerate them until we have rectification of that minor,” he said.

THE WALL DIVIDES

For hundreds of miles, a border wall divides the U.S. from Mexico. It also divides Republicans from Democrats.

“I think that the Democrats are a coordinated concerted effort to undermine the president of the United States and giving him any money for a border fence,” Lesko said. “They view the wall as a win for the president, but it’s actually a win for the country.”

Ducey says strengthened ports mean economic security.

“But my higher concern and higher purpose is always going to be around public safety,” he said. “And a good way to solve this issue is to focus on border security.”

Grijalva claims the president cannot get beyond building a border wall and closing ports of entry to curb the surge of migrants.

And he accused the president of creating the crisis by abusing federal law enforcement resources and policies.

“Taking 600 or 700 personnel from the ports of entry and reassigning them, the indefinite detention of minors if they’re separated from their families,” Grijalva listed.

In his office atop the executive tower at the state Capitol, KTAR News asked Ducey what comes first: the wall, ports of entry or legal reform. He said all of it.

“So, let’s see some leadership in the House of Representatives. So let’s see some leadership in the Senate,” Ducey said. “You can combine these things. You can prioritize these things. You can do them one at a time.

“But there should be action now.”

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