TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - On Wednesday, March 24, the Pima County Board of Supervisors authorized the county administration to enter into contracts to provide transportation to asylum seekers released by federal agencies within the county to the Casa Alitas Welcome Center.
The vote was 4-1 in an emergency board meeting on March 24.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said costs are expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Border Patrol station in Ajo has been releasing asylum seekers to a nonprofit agency – the International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA). With no shelter facilities in Ajo, ISDA has been contacting Catholic Community Services to arrange transportation from Ajo to Casa Alitas.
Individuals and family asylum seekers are also being released in Yuma, with the City of Yuma and non-governmental organizations paying for buses to Casa Alitas.
Huckelberry said that, unlike in the 2019 surge, federal agencies are not transporting asylum seekers directly to emergency shelters and are currently allowed to drop off individuals within 35 miles of their substation.
Casa Alitas, operated by Catholic Community Services, opened in August 2019 in order to shelter asylum seekers, at the County’s former Juvenile Justice Facility, which was remodeled to serve as temporary housing. Asylum seekers typically spend about 48 hours at Casa Alitas before being sent to sponsors elsewhere in the United States.
Huckelberry said that Casa Alitas was able to accommodate 7,555 individuals from August 2019 through February 2021. Capacity at the shelter, previously at 300, is at about 65 due to COVID-19 distancing protocols.
All asylum seekers receive a rapid test for COVID-19 upon arrival.