Arizona town calls state of emergency over migrant arrivals

U.S.

A migrant girl from Central America waits with her mother for a bus after they are dropped off by the US Customs and Border Protection at a bus station near the Gateway International Bridge, between the cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, on March 15, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas. – It’s the new normal for migrant families under President Joe Biden, after the harsh “zero tolerance” approach of Donald Trump dashed the dreams of hundreds of thousands hoping to escape endemic poverty and violence in Central America. Biden’s pledge of a more humane approach though has sparked a new rush to the border, threatening to become a huge political liability. Republicans are accusing him of opening the country’s doors to illegal border-crossers and sparking a “crisis” on the US-Mexico frontier, marked in Texas by the meandering Rio Grande river. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

PHOENIX (AP) — A small town in Arizona has declared a state of emergency over the number of migrants who have been dropped off in Gila Bend, located 75 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mayor Chris Riggs made the declaration Tuesday, saying the town does not have the resources or funds to support migrants, many who arrive with hopes of seeking asylum and making their home in America.

“I’ve got nothing here, I’ve got no shelter, nowhere to put them,” Riggs said. “Literally, they’d be sleeping at the park and I’m not going to do that to little children.”

Gila Bend, with a population of 2,000, does not have a hospital or shelter. It is about 60 miles southwest of Phoenix.

The mayor’s declaration came after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on Monday dropped off 16 people, including young children, at a park in town. The group included six families, five from Venezuela and one from Chile.

“To drop people in basically the middle of nowhere, it’s 30 miles to the next type of town, and that’s 30 miles of open desert. So especially come July and August, we’re going to be finding bodies,” Riggs said.

Federal officials provided less than three hour’s notice before dropping off the latest migrant group, Riggs said, noting that he and his wife had to drive the families in loaned vans to a shelter in Phoenix arranged by U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who was unable to find transportation for them.

Riggs said he hopes the declaration sends a message to the state and Maricopa County that Gila Bend needs help with a variety of issues, including virus testing.

“I want to get Maricopa County to provide me, from the department of health services, with personnel and testing resources so that I can test these people,” Riggs said. He also said he wants the state, through the National Guard, to help the town with transportation if non-government organizations are not available.

Arizona’s Pima County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday said asylum-seeking families are also being dropped off in the remote border community of Ajo. They agreed to prepare contracts to help transport them to the main migrant shelter in Tucson where they can stay temporarily and be tested for COVID-19.

An overall cost for transportation was not discussed, but Pima County officials said they would seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Customs and Border Protection over the past month has also released hundreds of asylum seekers in the remote border city of Yuma, which has no shelter or nonprofit groups to help migrants arrange travel to relatives elsewhere in the U.S. to await their court dates. Mayor Douglas Nicholls has been pushing federal officials for a solution.

In the border city of Nogales, Mayor Arturo Garino has said there has been no increase in asylum seekers but he shares the concerns of mayors of other border cities that if it does happen, the city would not.

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