HomeHealth-and-MedicalYuma, Arizona, mayor declares emergency, warns of imminent threat over migrant releases at border
Yuma, Arizona, mayor declares emergency, warns of imminent threat over migrant releases at border
April 17, 2019
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls issued a proclamation of emergency, saying the continued mass release of migrants directly into his border community had become an “imminent threat” to life and property in the area.
The city lacks the resources it needs to handle the migrants, he said.
Yuma is the first border city in the U.S. to declare a state of emergency as part of its response to the latest surge in the number of migrant families reaching the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum.
“Today is a day that we had talked about three weeks ago, hoping never to get to,” Nicholls said at a news conference on Tuesday.
With a “heavy heart,” the mayor said he signed the document as a means to seek resources and to protect residents and vulnerable migrants.
“… the mass release of migrant families from federal detention facilities into the City of Yuma without provisions for adequate food, water, shelter and medical care threatens to cause injury, damage and suffering to persons and property located in the City of Yuma, Yuma County, Arizona as well as causing a humanitarian crisis,” the proclamation read.
The emergency proclamation was a plea for federal and state assistance.
In late March, the Border Patrol began releasing migrant families from the agency’s custody into the community. At that time, Nicholls brought together several community groups to open a temporary shelter to house up to 200 migrants while they arranged for travel to their relatives’ locations throughout the United States.
Nicholls said he received a call from shelter organizers on Tuesday morning saying they had reached their capacity.
That was followed by another call from Border Patrol officials in Yuma announcing they planned to release an additional 120 migrants, placing the shelter way above its intended capacity.
Transportation woes cause backlog
One of the biggest challenges in helping migrants is the inability to get them out of Yuma and on the road quickly.
“The transportation network is just insufficient to keep up with demand,” Nicholls said. “And the backlog of people staying at the shelter has created this capacity issue.”
When migrants are released into the community with a notice to appear in court, the relative they will be staying with is responsible for purchasing their bus or flight ticket to their location.
The Yuma area, with a population of 200,000 people, has limited bus routes and transportation options compared with larger cities like Phoenix and Tucson.
In signing the declaration, Nicholls said he hopes to draw national attention to the plight of local communities struggling with a federal issue, adding that he’s talking to officials in other border cities and calling on them to issue similar emergency declarations.
The mayor added that he talked to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who signaled his support for the declaration.
“We will review any declaration once we receive it,” according to a statement Tuesday night from Patrick Ptak, a Ducey spokesman. “Ultimately, this humanitarian crisis is the result of Congress’ failure to act. It will only be solved by Congress actually doing something, and the governor has vocally urged Congress to quit playing politics and take action.
“In the wake of their inaction, our office is working with local governments, non-profits and our federal partners to maximize available resources and ensure proper coordination between ICE officials and groups providing temporary services to migrants.”
Nicholls said he hopes to “avert the threat of hundreds of people roaming streets looking to satisfy their basic human needs” by securing additional funding to care for migrant families.
The mayor said he hoped for one of two solutions to the problem: a more “efficient” and “coordinated” transportation system to move migrant families out of Yuma more quickly, or for an emergency response from the federal government.
He said the second option, for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take over the operation, would be the “best solution.”
“This isn’t a natural disaster,” Nicholls said. “But it is a disaster.”
“… the local emergency exceeds control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of the City of Yuma and requires the combined efforts, cooperation, and resources of the Yuma community including local and non-profit agencies such as the Red Cross, Catholic Community Services, The Salvation Army, Yuma Community Food Bank, churches, the County of Yuma, the State of Arizona, and the United States of America,” the statement said.
Families continue to cross the border
The daily release of migrant families is likely to continue despite capacity issues at the temporary shelter in Yuma.
According to Nicholls, the Border Patrol in Yuma had 950 migrants in detention on Tuesday, even though it only has the capacity to hold 400 people at any given time.
And families continue arriving nonstop.
Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, said on Tuesday that agents in the Yuma area had processed more than 1,000 migrants, mostly families and minors, in the past three days.
Nonprofits looking for volunteers
The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector has been spending about $100,000 a month in humanitarian supplies such as diapers and baby formula.
To assist with the surge in families, CBP has reassigned 50 agents from other sectors and 50 customs officers normally stationed at ports of entry to help agents in Yuma. It has also brought in 80 National Guard troops and 100 Marines.
Breazeale, with the Salvation Army, said one of their greatest needs, in addition to travel items, has been volunteers both at the shelter as well as to help transport migrants to the bus station, airport, and sometimes even to Phoenix or Tucson.
Anyone interested in helping out can contact Patsy Hernandez, the Salvation Army’s volunteer coordinator, at 928-783-0181. Volunteers must be 21 years or older and will be vetted, Breazeale said.