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Yuma declares emergency over influx of migrants after shelters hit capacity

PHOENIX — The mayor of a southern Arizona town declared a state of emergency this week due to an influx of migrants being released from federal custody into the city in recent weeks.

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls told KTAR News 92.3 FM the declaration was issued Tuesday after border agents said they were bringing 70 people to a shelter that already reached its capacity of 200. There have been more than 1,300 migrants dropped off in the city so far, he added.

“At that point, we were not only above capacity, we were significantly above capacity,” Nicholls said.

“In talking and watching the recent activity along the border and talking to Border Patrol, it became apparent that this was not a blip on the radar, but a consistent trend of increasing volume.”

Nicholls said he hopes the declaration will either bring more resources to help the town, which is about 25 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, deal with the influx of migrants or change where they are dropped off.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman Patrick Ptak pointed to Congress as the cause of what he called a humanitarian crisis in Yuma.

“In the wake of (Congress’) inaction, our office is working with local governments, nonprofits and our federal partners to maximize available resources and ensure proper coordination between ICE officials and groups providing temporary services to migrants,” Ptak said in a Tuesday statement to KTAR News.

Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wednesday tweet that he hopes the emergency declaration will push “Democrats to acknowledge this crisis and get to work.”

Nicholls said nonprofits in the town set up the shelter system three weeks ago, after Border Patrol officials called him saying they would start releasing migrants — mainly families — in Yuma.

“From the city’s point of view, we don’t want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people walking around the community without resources, food, shelter, not knowing how they will get to their next destination,” he said.

“It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen. But with the help of the nonprofits, we were able to avert that for three weeks.”

The reaction to the influx has been mixed, Nicholls said. Some community members have been reaching out to help and provide resources, while others express frustration about the situation.

Nicholls said the best case scenario for Yuma would be to have border agents release migrants in a community “that can handle the size of releases and demands.”

But he added he realizes that would take “allocation from the federal government to do that.”

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

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