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Asylum-seekers released in Arizona get humanitarian care, COVID testing

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents process a group of asylum-seekers El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2021. (CBP Photo/Glenn Fawcett)

PHOENIX – Arizona humanitarian groups and local public health officials have combined forces to provide shelter, care and COVID-19 testing for asylum-seekers released from federal custody under the policies of the Biden administration.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been releasing people into Arizona since President Joe Biden took office, a change from the previous administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that meant anybody detained after crossing the southern border without documentation was sent back to Mexico.

An ICE spokesperson told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday that the release decisions are made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with medical professionals.

“In Arizona, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is releasing families to nonprofit organizations that are able to provide assistance with immediate basic needs such as temporary shelter, food, water, clothing and transportation services,” the statement said.

“ERO continues to seek cooperation with external organizations around the state that have come forward to assist families.”

In the Phoenix area, Maricopa County’s public health and human services departments have supplied nonprofit humanitarian groups with thousands of rapid COVID-19 test kits as well as quarantine space.

“They have provided approximately 6,400 Binax Now rapid tests,” Maricopa County Public Health said in a statement to KTAR News on Wednesday. “And a number of asylum-seekers have been placed in a quarantine hotel if they were positive or had symptoms of COVID-19.”

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is among the nonprofits working with federal and local agencies to care for those released by ICE in Arizona.

“I can confirm that the IRC and other charitable organizations are providing humanitarian assistance, including food, shelter, medicine and other basic necessities, to asylum-seekers released in the Phoenix area,” Stanford T. Prescott, the group’s community engagement coordinator, told KTAR News in a statement Tuesday.

Humanitarian groups such as IRC and southern Arizona’s Campesinos Sin Fronteras provide care for the released asylum-seekers before they travel to stay with friends or relatives in other parts of the United States to await their asylum hearings.

“What we have been able to do is provide them lunch and then some basic necessities like shoes or diapers or masks and hand sanitizer,” Emma Torres, Campesinos Sin Fronteras executive director, told KTAR News on Thursday.

Torres said her group has helped around 50 asylum-seekers a day since ICE started released them into the San Luis/Somerton area, south of Yuma, about two weeks ago.

She said Campesinos Sin Fronteras doesn’t have housing facilities or many resources but has found support from within the community.

“There’s a lot children, a lot of pregnant women. There’s some newborn babies that are coming with this group,” she said.

“We formed kind of an informal network of friends and family and church and some nonprofits that have stepped in and said, ‘Let’s help’ and ‘How do we help?’”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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