Pima County leases new space for asylum seekers

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 7:06 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of leasing a 63,000 square foot big box store at Drexel and Interstate 19 to house an overflow of migrants and asylum seekers expected to flood the county when Title 42 is lifted.

Title 42 is a health policy adopted during the Trump administration during the pandemic to keep asylum seekers from entering the country. 2.5 million were denied entry during the pandemic.

The Biden Administration is seeking to lift it as the health risk due to the pandemic has lessened.

It was scheduled to end Dec. 21, but Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts put a temporary delay.

The Biden Administration is asking it be delayed until after Christmas.

In any event, border communities and counties are still preparing for a substantial increase in the numbers when it’s lifted.

As of today, Catholic Community Services processes about 500 to 700 asylum seekers every day, far more than even a year ago. The Department of Homeland Security is advising the county that it could receive 1,200 a day.

Most stay in Pima County for 24 to 48 hours until they catch a plane or a bus to their final destination. Still, it’s a chore to feed, clothe, shower and get them on their way.

Pima County uses a pair of hotels when there is overflow and to house those who test positive for covid. All asylum seekers are tested.

But the hotel model is coming to an end as per FEMA.

“It is my understanding that if we don’t move forward with the Drexel lease, that the feds want us to do a big box lease, they are going to stop funding us in the motels,” Board Chair Sharon Bronson said.

The answer to that was yes.

The warehouse is 63,000 square feet and will house about 300. It will take an estimated 45 to 60 days to retrofit it for the asylum seekers. The county will pay more than $300,000 for a six month lease.

It’s felt the new facility is needed to prevent “street releases”, where agents drop the migrants near a transportation hub such as the airport or bus station. But they have no services nor any place to sleep.

It can be a dangerous situation.

“We’ve all seen in the past couple of days, what the numbers look like in El Paso, Texas where individuals are being released into the streets with no shelter and no assistance,” said Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. “This is coming to Arizona.”

Sinema, however, is trying to delay the lifting of Title 42 to give the local governments more time to prepare and to try to convince her colleagues of the need for border reform.

“We’re also bringing a bipartisan group of senators down to the border in early January so that our colleagues who come from other parts of the country can actually see what life is like in our border communities,” she said. “What the danger is of not taking action.”