TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The first Tucson City Council meeting under Mayor Regina Romero was a chance for the city’s first Latina leader to use her platform to make a statement.
“We feel it is inhumane to send [asylum seekers] back [to Mexico] when we have nonprofits that are at the ready in Tucson,” Romero said in Tuesday’s council meeting.
A memorial added to the consent agenda called on the federal government to end the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), commonly referred to as the Remain in Mexico policy. It also urged federal authorities to continue bringing asylum seekers to shelters in Tucson.
News of the policy expanding to the Tucson sector broke more than a week ago. Department of Homeland Security workers are said to be preparing to transport asylum seekers at ports of entry in Arizona to El Paso, Texas, where they will be sent to Mexico to await their court hearings.
It’s concerning to volunteers at Casa Alitas, a local shelter for asylum seekers and other migrants.
“There’s a lot of people waiting in Mexico and it just opens up an environment where people can be hurt,” Diego Javier Pina Lopez, the program manager at Casa Alitas, said.
Volunteers say buses haven’t stopped coming yet. The shelter is currently caring for about 120 asylum seekers.
“[We still don’t know] what MPP will look like and when it will be fully implemented,” Lopez said.
In a show of solidarity with asylum seekers, council unanimously voted to approve the memorial.
One resident at the meeting reminded them not everyone shares the same views on immigration.
“The voters have also voiced their opposition to Tucson becoming a Sanctuary City,” said a man during the open comment period.
Romero sees things differently.
“Traditionally, the ethic of Tucson voters and the residents of Tucson have been very pro-immigrant rights, pro-refugee rights,” she said.
According to city staff, more than 35,000 migrants have been cared for at shelters in Tucson over the past five years.
While the city has taken an official stance opposing the policy, the memorial itself doesn’t carry change. Asylum seekers at local borders may soon be rerouted.
“But it makes a statement to our congressional delegations, to our elected representatives in the government how the City of Tucson feels about this,” Romero said.
In the meantime, Casa Alitas will be bringing supplies to shelters in Mexico. Volunteers say they are in need of tennis shoes for men, women and children, pants for boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 15, winter gloves, sweaters and small underwear for women. Casa Alitas has also posted an Amazon wish list: amzn.to/2ONtTEm
KOLD News 13 reached out to the Pima County GOP Office for comment. We have not heard back yet.