Yuma, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, declared a state of emergency Tuesday, saying it cannot handle the crush of illegal immigrants the government is being forced to release onto its streets.
Mayor Douglas Nicholls said the migrants are being released by the Border Patrol into his community faster than they can leave, and local shelters are already at capacity.
He warned of mobs of people “roaming the streets looking to satisfy basic human needs,” clashing with citizens looking to protect their own property.
“There is an imminent threat on having too many migrant releases into our community,” he said. “It’s above our capacity as a community to sustain.”
The move was designed to draw the attention of the country to what locals said was an untenable situation, and to beg for solutions from the federal government, which has been at a political stalemate over what to do.
Mr. Nicholls said he is trying to get other Arizona communities to issue similar declarations, hoping a critical mass of voices will cut through the partisan gridlock.
The migrants are overwhelmingly families and unaccompanied children from Central America. They are fleeing rough conditions at home and are drawn north by lax enforcement policies that virtually guarantee they can be quickly released into communities, where most disappear into the shadows.
Of the children and families that came in 2017, more than 98% were still in the U.S. as of the beginning of this year.
The Trump administration has been searching for ways to change the incentives that draw the migrants to the U.S.
On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr announced that migrants who take the first step toward asylum claims will no longer have an automatic right to be released on bond while their cases are proceeding. The ruling, though, won’t generally affect the children and families, who are quickly released under other court rulings and laws.
Also Tuesday, a Homeland Security Department advisory council issued an emergency report calling for the government to take new steps.
One solution was to set up regional processing centers along the border to centralize the flow of migrants, with new and better facilities to care for the children and families.
The council also pleaded with Congress to pass emergency legislation to speed up asylum cases so a decision can be issued within a month and asked for a fix to the Flores court settlement that imposes a 20-day limit on how long illegal immigrant families can be held in detention.
In the meantime, the council said, the administration should issue an emergency regulation allowing migrant families to be held.
Yuma sits on the line between Arizona and California, surrounded by rough, vacant terrain to its east and west. That means it has become the drop-off point for thousands of illegal immigrants each week streaming into the remote parts of California and Arizona, guided by smugglers who bus them north and then leave them to walk across the border and demand attention from U.S. authorities.
Border Patrol agents arrest them en masse – a group of 360 people was apprehended near Lukeville, Arizona, earlier Tuesday.
But with no ability to hold them, agents engage in what is called “catch-and-release,” processing the migrants and then letting them go at a local bus terminal.
Communities along the border have issued desperate pleas for help, but Yuma’s state of emergency is the most striking reaction.
Mr. Nichollls said the local shelter’s normal capacity is 150 people but it can stretch to accommodate 250. It began Tuesday with 200 people, and Border Patrol agents said they were going to deliver 120 more people during the day, putting the facility well beyond its limits.
The mayor said even if the city had a bigger building, the number of people swamps the capacity for volunteers and supplies – though he did issue a call for donations of coloring books, diapers, snacks and bottled water.
He said the issue is transportation in a town of about 100,000 people, where bus links aren’t extensive and there isn’t enough capacity to ship people out as fast as they are being dropped off by the Border Patrol.
President Trump has proposed siphoning the illegal immigrants from the border into sanctuary cities elsewhere, saying it’s only right those communities step up, given their policies and proclamations about welcoming migrants. That idea has ignited a firestorm in Washington, where Democrats called it unbecoming.
Yet some sanctuary cities have stepped forward to say they would embrace the migrants.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf over the weekend said she would be happy to do so. “Oakland welcomes all, no matter where you came from or how you got here,” she wrote in response to Mr. Trump.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also accepted the challenge this week, saying his city “would welcome all.”
Mr. Trump cast his proposal as political payback, but others have said it’s a necessity, at least so far as releasing the migrants away from the border, where the communities are already overwhelmed.
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