US border officers begin releasing migrants into Yuma

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US Customs and Border Protection officials and ICE’s HSI special agents are on high alert to stop counterfeit or diluted detergents and personal protective equipment [PPE] get across America’s borders. (Stephanie Bennett / Fox News)

Overwhelmed border officials have started releasing migrants to rural Arizona’s Yuma County as more and more people arrive hoping to find their homes in America in a pandemic that does not allow authorities to detain so many.

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls said the U.S. Border Patrol released a group of 20 people to the neighboring community of San Luis on February 15, and several similarly sized groups were released in the days that followed. The new releases worry local executives who two years ago grappled with an attempt to manage the release of 5,700 migrants to the county of approximately 215,000 people over three months.

Immigration officials have typically released migrants to the US after giving them their court date when there is no room for them in detention centers.

Yuma lacks the resources to accommodate, feed, and provide other resources for a large influx of newly released migrants, Nicholls said. The migrants often do not speak English and need instructions on how to appear at court and other required dates.

“There’s no capacity in our current Yuma not-for-profit system,” said Nicholls. The only emergency shelter in the area was closed last year.

The new wave of migrant releases in Yuma is segregated from asylum seekers entering the US on Friday in San Diego and next week in Texas as the Biden administration overturns Trump-era policies. Under the policy of the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Staying in Mexico,” migrants seeking asylum in the US had to wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration courts

Nicholls telephoned federal and state officials and nonprofit social services for much of the week to prepare for additional arrivals.

“The problem is an increase in fears and insufficient capacity for staff and detention,” said the mayor. “I don’t think they should dump these migrants into small communities that are not set up to deal with them.”

A written statement from Customs and Border Protection said that some of its holding facilities have reached capacity since April due to an increase in border fear coupled with social distancing policies that do not allow so many people to be detained.

“After years of practice, when long-term solutions to holding are not possible, some migrants are processed for deportation, posted a notice and released to the US to await a future immigration hearing,” the statement said.

Stanford Prescott, spokesman for the International Rescue Committee in Arizona, said the nonprofit is speaking with federal officials about the need to transport migrants released in Yuma to larger cities like Phoenix, which has a center with 150 socially detached beds. He said another animal shelter in Tucson is also equipped to house migrants.

Concerns about the release of more people in Yuma have increased dramatically in recent days. Arizona politicians urge federal officials to ensure their border communities are not harmed.

Republican Governor Doug Ducey and other elected officials have been concerned about how large spills could affect public health in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The State Department said it has health protocols, including COVID-19 testing, for migrants released under the Remain in Mexico program. However, it is unclear whether people outside the program who are now being released in Yuma will be tested for infection.

“This is a national issue, not a Yuma issue,” said Nicholls. “There has to be a national solution.”

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