The U.S.-Mexico border near Nogales. Photo by Steeve Hise | Creative Commons
A letter from community organizations is asking the Arizona Border Counties Coalition to reject the help from out-of-state law enforcement groups that Gov. Doug Ducey requested “urgently” go to the border with Mexico “in defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The organizations — the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the Kino Border Initiative, People Helping People and the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson — said Ducey’s June request is using a Trump-era emergency public health authority known as Title 42, which prohibits entry into the U.S., that President Joe Biden has kept in place. The groups say its use is causing a “human rights crisis at the border.”
“We ask that at this time of horrific anti-migrant sentiment and policies, including the continued usage of xenophobic Title 42 at the border, that you protect your constituencies, including us, from dangerous and unnecessary encroachment from outside state law enforcement officials,” the groups wrote. “Allowing this encroachment from outside state governors and law enforcement agents is the wrong move for the Arizona border communities that you represent.”
In June, Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on other states to send law enforcement officers to their southern borders. It is unclear what work they will do, and a spokesman for Ducey’s office did not respond to repeated requests for information.
Ducey told a radio show on Friday that the state is “surging badges to the border.”
Yvette Borja, an attorney with the ACLU of Arizona, said Ducey’s request is more about political grandstanding than providing meaningful assistance to border communities.
“State law enforcement can’t engage in federal immigration enforcement, period,” Borja said.
In April, Ducey sent 250 Arizona National Guard troops to the border to support local law enforcement. Among the jobs Ducey sent them to do were installing cameras along the border, collect data from those cameras and analyze satellite imagery of known smuggling corridors.
The Arizona Border Counties Coalition told Ducey in April that county governments should have been consulted about what resources they need to support their response to border and immigration related issues, instead of calling on the Arizona National Guard for security purposes.
“Based on our experience, the Arizona National Guard is not needed for security or providing those tasks required of the federal government,” the coalition told Ducey. “We would ask you to reconsider this matter and provide immediate transportation services for asylum seekers that are released into the smaller communities of our border counties so that these individuals can be safely transported to transitional shelters operated largely by our faith based communities.”
Several community organizations along the border and in Tucson and Phoenix have been assisting migrants who federal immigration and border agents release on short notice.
Ducey has advocated for keeping Title 42 in place and restoring restrictive measures that put hardships on people fleeing persecution around the world who seek protections in the U.S.
Title 42 is a public health emergency power that gives the government the authority to expel people who arrive in the US from “countries where a quarantinable communicable disease exists.” In 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration used Title 42 to expel adults and families from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador that border agents encountered. Those people, even if they are seeking asylum, are expelled to Mexico without a deportation order. People from those four countries are arrested, held for days or weeks, and deported by plant to their home country, according to an American Immigration Council report.
“In total, more than 13,000 unaccompanied children were expelled under Title 42 until a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop the practice on November 18, 2020, declaring it a violation of immigration law,” the report noted.
The Biden administration is still expelling most people border agents encounter under Title 42, the group found.
“If the Biden administration continues the practice of expelling most people arriving at the border, apprehension numbers may continue to increase above 2019 levels even though significantly fewer people are being processed into the country,” the report said.
Under US law, people can seek asylum once they are present in the US or by presenting themselves at a port of entry. Ducey, who’s been at that post for six years, describes these processes as “illegal immigration.”
That’s not only inaccurate, it’s xenophobia, said Borja, of the ACLU of Arizona.
Migrant adults and minors seeking protections in the US who cross the border illegally typically turn themselves in to Border Patrol immediately after crossing the border and ask for access to the asylum process.
To qualify for asylum, a person must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional information about the role that Arizona National Guard soldiers are doing in border communities.
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