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Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to visit Arizona border this week

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2019 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

PHOENIX — The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will travel to southern Arizona on Thursday after President Donald Trump threatened to close the border to deal with what he calls an immigration crisis.

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will participate in a roundtable meeting in Yuma, Arizona.

The meeting will also include department leaders from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday.

Local law enforcement officials, local elected officials, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations were also invited to the meeting.

Nielsen will then travel to Calexico, California, where she and Trump will visit the border wall, participate in a roundtable and “discuss the way forward.”

Throughout the border trip, Nielsen will meet with border agents to assess the crisis, the department’s response and efforts to divert resources to the area to “restore order.”

She said Tuesday that the department would be taking a “full-fledged disaster response” approach to the border. This approach will include appointing an official for interagency action and using the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response coordination center.

The Trump administration has floated several proposals to respond to the immigration crisis.

Tens of thousands of migrants have been released from federal detention into Arizona in recent months, highlighting a growing shortage of resources to properly deal with the immigrants crossing the border.

ICE officials told KTAR News that 22,000 immigrants were released from federal detention into Arizona between Dec. 21 and April 1.

Vinny Dulesky, special operations supervisor for Yuma Border Patrol, told KTAR News on Wednesday that the sector used to apprehend about 50 people per day, but that number is now up to 200.

He said his facility can only hold 400 people, meaning that there is a large backlog for processing immigrants.

“In the past … you’d have waves where you’d see a little break, and we’re not seeing those breaks. It’s just getting more and more and more — everyday, we’re seeing a higher number,” he said.

Dulesky said the Yuma sector has about 80 National Guard troops and 100 Marines at the border to help them, and without the assistance, “the system would fold.”

Trump threatened to shut the southern border this week if Mexico did not immediately halt all illegal immigration into the U.S., a move that would have enormous economic consequences on both sides of the border.

Julie Murphree with the Arizona Farm Bureau, and Felipe Garcia, vice president of Visit Tucson, told KTAR News Arizona’s economy would take a massive hit if the border was shut down.

“We know there’s some big challenges on the immigration side, also, but certainly there would be an economic impact,” Murphree said.

“It would have a huge impact in our economy and all of our border economies and the state of the Arizona,” Garcia said.

But Trump has eased up on the threat in recent days, saying he was pleased with steps Mexico had taken and renewing his calls for Congress to make changes he contends would solve the problem.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally pushed back on a separate Trump administration move to transfer border agents from Arizona ports of entry to cope with the recent surge of migrants.

The senators said the officers are needed to maintain the flow of trade, keep illegal drugs and other items from crossing the border and to “help strengthen the morale of CBP’s workforce.”

Nielsen said she would review the measure during her trip to the border. She had redirected resources and personnel from across the department toward “border security and migration management.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report. 

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