Arizona border community empathetic but growing tired of migrant crisis

Mar 13, 2024, 4:35 AM | Updated: 4:43 pm

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series called “48 Hours on the Border” in conjunction with ABC15 Arizona. Read part one here.

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — Cochise County Supervisor Ann English has lived on a ranch 5 miles north of the Arizona border community of Douglas for nearly 60 years.

She believes her city is empathetic and concerned as migrants pour over the border, but frustration is growing.

Drug problems, highlighted by cartel influence, underscore rising border crossings.

“For me, a crisis is something that is taking place and is uncontrollable,” English said. “I think what’s happening at the border is somewhat controlled. But not by us.”

Mexican cartels contributing to migrant surge in Douglas

English believes the Mexican drug cartels are the ones bringing the migrants across illegally, a problem not limited to the Douglas area.

“If the American public has this desire for drugs, the cartels are going to get it to them. And some of it may be coming through Douglas, but it isn’t stopping here,” English said.

She said most drugs are coming through ports of entry and not over the wall. English says more federal dollars need to be spent on enhanced technology at the ports of entry, so the U.S. knows exactly what is coming through the border.

English explained the cartels watch the U.S.-Mexico border carefully in order to tie up Border Patrol and smuggle over migrants.

She said Border Patrol isn’t patrolling the border because they’re tied up with administrative tasks.

“And if Border Patrol is in one area, then they alert the people who were trying to cross in the past so they would go to a different place,” English said.

Help for migrants in Douglas a difficult process

English said Douglas’ Catholic church will house migrants seeking asylum until they can be bused to Tucson or Phoenix, but it’s getting more difficult with growing numbers.

Diego Piña Lopez, executive director of homeless shelter Casa Alitas in Tucson, said Border Patrol delivers the asylum seekers to them, where they are given food and medical attention if needed. They stay anywhere from 6-48 hours before continuing on to a sponsor somewhere else in the country.

“Very few of them are staying in Tucson, maybe less than a percentage point,” Lopez said. “And then many of them have the money or the means to leave on their own.” He says 60%-70% of the asylum seekers they take in are families.

Lopez explained it takes years to go through the asylum process and many of the families he helps ask him what the next steps are.

He said many are eager to go through the citizenship process the right way. Many of them want to work, but are unable to until a few months after their first court hearing. Lopez says it costs $560 for a workers’ permit.

Future murky in Douglas for federal migrant assistance

English is worried about what will happen to the migrants when most of them have their asylum claims denied in a few years because they are ineligible. She doesn’t believe shutting down the border is an option because 80% of their sales tax income comes from Mexico.

“And so, if you shut down the port, you shut down the economy in Douglas,” English said.

As a member of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, English is responsible for the budget.

She believes the border situation shouldn’t just be solely state taxpayers’ problem.

“Whatever those needs are, we have to find a way to provide it,” English said. “And other services will not be taken care of.”

The state-sponsored bus mission will continue until the end of the state fiscal year in June, according to Judy Kioski with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.

Kioski added that the state bus funding will continue until money from the Border Security Fund runs out.

Lopez says the federal funding Casa Alitas receives is set to run out on April 1. He says when the happens, Border Patrol will no longer bring the migrants to Casa Alitas, but will instead drop them off at the Greyhound bus station in Tucson to figure out how to get to their final destinations.

English believes the community is beginning to worry what will happen if state funding runs out to bus the migrants out of Douglas.

“Then they become ours. They’re in our jails, they’re in our court system,” English said.

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Arizona border community empathetic but growing tired of migrant crisis