With the end of Title 42, Pima County scrambles to house an expected surge in asylum seekers

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 7:34 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - When Title 42 is lifted next week, local officials have been told the number of asylum seekers and migrants coming to Tucson will surge.

Right now, Catholic Community Services is taking in 700 to 800 every day but the Department of Homeland Security is telling the non-profit to expect as many as 1,200 a day starting December 21st when it expires.

“We have increased our capacity to see folks in the region of 700 to 800 a day but it is extremely difficult to do so,” said Teresa Cavendish, the Director of Operations for CCS.

So imagine how much more difficult it will be to serve 1,200 migrants and asylum seekers every day, four to five hundred more than at present.

“We simply do not have the capacity to provide services in this community” for that number,” Cavendish said. “We don’t know what the outcome will be.”

Amid all of that uncertainty, Pima County will vote next week to lease a 65,000 square foot big box store off Interstate-19 for $350,000 for six months to house the overflow.

“The extra facility will help, it will not be available for the next two or three months,” she said. “It will increase our capacity by a few hundred individuals.”

That will help but what to do in the meantime is still a big question mark. There are literally thousands of migrants who have been waiting for months in Mexico for this opportunity to cross, many in Nogales, Sonora.

“It’s extraordinary to see, what used to be a normal day for us was to serve a hundred people,” said Joanna Williams, the Director for Kino Border Initiative. “Now a normal day is to serve 300 people.”

The operation, which serves people in Mexico, many waiting to cross to declare asylum, has served 220,000 meals so far this year.”

That backlog in Mexico will create the bump in numbers that will need to be cleaned out before there is any sense of normalcy but what that might look like is unknown.

“If possible, we will attempt to move folks into other communities such as Phoenix, if their shelters there are not at capacity,” Cavendish said.

For the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers moving through Tucson, most will be here for only 24 to 48 hours before they are off to sponsors or family already here in the US. Still, it’s a hectic process.

“Once they join us, they receive covid testing, they receive covid quarantine if that’s appropriate for them, they have food, a shelter, clothing, an opportunity to shower, contact their families,” Cavendish said.

A process which may play out 1,200 or more times a day starting Dec. 21.