AZ Democrats want DHS to do more to aid in humanitarian response to migrant families




    A sign welcomes families at a St. Vincent de Paul building in Phoenix where 100 migrant parents and their children arrived March 26, 2019. The charity group has committed to hosting about 100 migrant families daily as a volunteer network reached a breaking point. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

    Arizona’s House Democratic delegation on Monday asked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s top leader to appoint a federal crisis coordinator to support the largely non-governmental network helping migrant families released by border and immigration officials.

    “This humanitarian crisis requires a humanitarian response,” the lawmakers wrote to Kevin McAleenan, acting DHS secretary. McAleenan also heads U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    The coordinator would “lead an office responsible for managing federal humanitarian aid operations at the southern border,” the letter said.

    The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Ruben Gallego, Raúl Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton.

    The lawmakers said volunteer groups in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma have been frustrated by lack of coordination and timely notice from federal officials on when families will be released to them.

    “The volunteers who have dedicated their time and money to help asylum seekers and assist DHS in managing this crisis deserve better,” the five Democrats said. “We urge you to appoint local and regional coordinators to serve as a primary point of contact for community groups and localities in order to strengthen communication and help address these issues and many more.”

    Since October, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has coordinated with faith-based groups and nonprofits in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma to drop-off migrant families recently processed by CBP. The families either entered the country through an official port of entry, or were arrested near the border. Many are seeking asylum. The charity groups provide families with basic necessities (like food, shelter, clothes, hygiene products, and medicine) and help coordinate travel plans so they can reunite with a relative elsewhere in the country.

    When released by federal officials, the families, who mostly hail from Central America, have a scheduled follow-up interview with an immigration official near their destination city.

    In late March, CBP began releasing people directly to Tucson and Yuma groups.

    ICE said between Dec. 21 and April 22, it has released an estimated 26,700 family members in Arizona.

    Before her exit about a month ago, former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson appointed a former Border Patrol chief Manuel Padilla as director of an “interagency border emergency cell.”

    In the letter, the five Arizona Democrats said it’s unclear what Padilla’s team does. They added that his work appears insufficient.

    “Since Secretary Nielsen has resigned, we have not heard any update about what this cell will be responsible for, what resources will be at its disposal or even whether this entity will continue under your leadership,” the letter said. “At the moment, it appears that this cell is insufficient to adequately coordinate the response to the humanitarian crisis.”

    The letter also asks if the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which is under DHS — can step in and provide resources to “reduce the burden” on other DHS agencies, local government and private groups.

    In Arizona, a network of churches and small Hispanic congregations, along with non-profits and refugee resettlement agencies, have helped welcome thousands of migrant families mostly without government assistance. For a week in late April, Tucson and Pima County temporarily each opened a space for the migrant families.

    Yuma, which declared an emergency on April 16 over influx of migrant families, hadn’t received any meaningful funds from state or federal agencies as of last week.

    Laura Gómez
    Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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