Migrants

In this June 2019 file photo, a group of what appear to be migrants arrive at the rear of what was the Salvation Army Thrift Store, 600 W. Catalina Drive, after being transported to the facility by U.S. Border Patrol personnel aboard USBP vans.

Migrant families are being released in the Yuma and San Luis communities by the U.S. Border Patrol, Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls announced in a Monday tweet.

The releases began on Monday, with 20 released in Yuma, he told the Yuma Sun. The mayor had not heard any numbers for Tuesday or Wednesday.

“The numbers fluctuate. It could be no releases for a couple days or couple days of groups of people,” Nicholls said.

On Twitter, the mayor said that his “priority is the community’s safety and the wellness of the general public as well as the humanitarian issues as releases ensue. I’m communicating with public safety leaders and non-profits to ensure a plan is in place as we did in 2019. Together we will have unity in a plan, done safely in a year like this one.”

Yuma faced a similar situation in 2019 when hundreds of migrant families seeking asylum were released into the community.

In a Tuesday phone interview, Nicholls explained that the releases are happening again due to an increase of activity along the border. “Coupled with the COVID-19 restrictions on the capacity of Border Patrol facilities, along with executive orders that limit the time that migrants can be held in a facility, there just isn’t enough transportation options to get migrants from the Border Patrol center in Yuma to the ERO facility in Phoenix. In order to maintain all these criteria, especially the time criteria, they are having to release part of the population locally,” Nicholls said.

The Enforcement and Removal Operations of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement manages all aspects of the immigration enforcement process, including identification and arrest, domestic transportation, detention, bond management, and supervised release, including alternatives to detention.

The migrants that are being set free have been processed and screened for active criminal warrants and COVID-19 infection. They have been given paperwork that allows them to be in-country while awaiting final processing or a court date.

Migrants have the option to travel and the vast majority are trying to reach other U.S. cities “They’re all trying to go somewhere. It’s not like they’re trying to take up residence here, but to get where you want to go, it takes a little more knowledge of how to do that in Yuma. There’s no bus station to go buy a bus ticket. That’s going to delay people from going to where they want to go,” Nicholls said.

The mayor found out about the releases after Border Patrol officials notified him. “In Yuma, we’re all community partners. Historically, the City of Yuma has had a great relationship with the Border Patrol sector office. Through that relationship, they notify us of anything substantial that changes. While they don’t give us all the inside details, they give us enough for us to understand what the issues could be,” he said.

Nicholls noted that the migrant releases in Yuma bring up a couple of concerns for him. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re adding people to the community. Even though they’ve been screened, they’ve not been not tested, and there are no additional resources coming from the federal government to help us with that. It just seems odd in the middle of a pandemic, when other countries are closing borders and requiring quarantines, we’re not doing something similar,” he said.

The situation also brings up the same humanitarian concerns it did in 2019, such as ensuring that the migrants aren’t left homeless and suffering from hunger and a lack of appropriate clothing.

“If you’re staying on the street, you’re needing warm clothes this time of the year. Basic humanitarian needs is what it comes down to,” Nicholls said.

Although the city faced a similar crisis in 2019, the circumstances were much different then. The Salvation Army had set up a temporary shelter system in partnership with other nonprofit organizations that provided humanitarian services to the migrants as well as helped them secure transportation to other cities.

This time around, the Salvation Army no longer has that building and the nonprofits have been hit hard by the pandemic. They can’t hold fundraisers like in previous years so they don’t have the same resources and funding.

In addition, the pandemic makes a temporary shelter impractical and even dangerous when housing large groups of people together is strongly discouraged.

However, Nicholls noted, nonprofits can still do a lot to help, such as provide blankets, warm clothes and basic necessities. The mayor said he has pulled together nonprofits and discussed the situation with them to try to figure out how they can help.

“I’ve talked with some of the churches and faith-based groups. There might be some opportunities there,” he said.

Since Yuma has very few options, the ultimate goal is to get them to the already established migrant shelters in Phoenix and Tucson. “Trying to procure access to them, figuring out how to traverse that distance is really the issue at this point,” Nicholls said.

In his Monday tweet, the mayor said that he had “engaged” Gov. Doug Ducey’s office and the state senators’ offices “to ensure our border community’s voice is heard. I am urging the federal level for additional resources for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the need for more space at migrant holding facilities that allow for adherence to safe CDC guidelines, more COVID-19 testing and healthcare support for potential impact, and transportation resources to help alleviate the migrant situation at the border.”

Nicholls stressed the importance of remembering the humanitarian issues on hand, both for the community and the migrants. “We want to make sure both issues are resolved. The best way to resolve these issues is a revised immigration system, a fully funded federal response. Those are the things that are going to assist the most,” he said, noting that Congress has failed to act for decades.

The Yuma City Council is also scheduled to discuss and seek legal counsel on the migrant releases in an executive session on Wednesday. Executive sessions are held behind closed doors and allow government officials to discuss certain issues privately.

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