TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Tucson’s Mayor Jonathan Rothschild is working the phones these days, not for reelection, but to find space to house the growing number of refugees expected in the near future.
The numbers have already increased which is straining resources.
The Benedictine Monastery on Country Club, which can house about 450 refugees was at capacity over the past weekend. That has been the highest number yet.
It comes on the heels of a thousand mostly Central American refugees who turned themselves in near the Lukeville Port of Entry in the past three days.
The numbers so overwhelmed services in Yuma, the mayor declared a “state of emergency” which is being reviewed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.
Tucson saw three groups dropped off in the city over the weekend, including one group at the Greyhound bus station at Broadway and Euclid.
“Which is completely unsafe for anybody,” said Ward 6 city council member Steve Kozachik. “You’re talking about people who don’t speak the language, they’re hungry, they need shelter, some of them need medical care, all of them need food.”
Kozachik said it’s irresponsible for ICE and the Border Patrol to drop them off without supervision because “it’s unsafe for them and for the neighborhoods.”
A Tucson church stepped up and voluntarily took them in.
Another group was intercepted by the Tucson Police Department.
“Any place in town that has room that can hold 100, 200 people is in play as far as we are concerned,” said Rothschild.
Tucson likely has the capacity to handle 500 to 600 refugees at any given time. But it needs more space and is getting it.
“By tonight, our number could be 750 to 850,” he said.
The refugees have already been processed by the Border Patrol before being dropped off. They will spend a day, two or three in Tucson before being put on a bus or an airplane for their final destinations.
“As a community we want to make sure those people are put in a safe place, in a place where they get fed and given some orientations as to where they’re going next,” Rothschild said.
The Tucson Unified School District is looking to see if an abandoned school could be re-purposed or maybe an empty hotel which has kitchen facilities.
“What I want to be is ready for not even the worse case scenario but a scenario that looks, for instance, double the people we have now,” Rothschild said.
Adding to the issue is the fact the churches and other social service agencies rely on volunteer help. Many of those volunteers are winter visitors who have left or will be leaving soon for the summer.
“We do need more space, we need more volunteers, and we need to provisions,” said Kozachik. “Because the numbers are not slowing down.”