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Townsend calls out security, humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border

By: - May 20, 2019 9:16 pm

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R- Mesa. Photo via Facebook

Rep. Kelly Townsend on Monday presented a proclamation on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives declaring a security and humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico.

“We are facing a security crisis, a potential health crisis, and most importantly a humanitarian crisis at the border, with Arizona and other border states picking up the financial and human costs,” the proclamation read.

Local, county and state governments in Arizona have done little to financially assist faith and charity groups who have taken in thousands of migrant mothers, fathers and children. These migrant families were released to community groups after detention and processing by border and immigration authorities.

The U.S. is seeing an unprecedented amount of large family groups who surrender themselves to border agents. Between October and April, migrants minors traveling alone and parents bringing their children made up 64 percent of all border arrests — a new trend in U.S. immigration.   

On the House floor Monday, Townsend, a Mesa Republican, called the situation a “grave humanitarian crisis,” repeated statements from border officials that more families crossing is diverting enforcement resources, and that the immigration system is at a breaking point.

“This is a serious issue that needs attention,” Townsend said, flanked by some of her Republican colleagues.

Her Monday proclamation, which is not binding, called on Congress to “act with whatever financial and legal means necessary to address our overburdened border and immigration system and to clarify, revise or change the imigration laws that have led to this crisis.”

While Townsend didn’t speak about it, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday that 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala, died in its custody. He is the fourth minor to die while in custody of the federal government since December. The other migrant children who died — all from Guatemala — were 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, who died Dec. 8; Felipe Gómez Alonzo, who was 8 and died Dec. 24; and Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, who died April 30 inside a privately-run youth care facility. A fifth child, an unidentified 2½-year-old boy from Guatemala, died May 14 in a Texas hospital weeks after release from government custody.

Townsend’s proclamation didn’t have the most up-to-date numbers on how many migrant mothers, fathers and children U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has released to faith and charity organizations in Arizona. Between Dec. 21 and May 13, ICE estimates it has released 30,600 migrant family members in Arizona. Nationally, that number is 177,600, according to ICE.

ICE began releasing migrant families to Phoenix community groups in October. The organization have remained steady in their work largely without government help.

CBP is also separately releasing migrants directly to charity organizations in border communities. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told a Congressional panel earlier this month it had released over 33,000 migrant family members directly into border communities.

At the federal level, border and immigration leaders, in testimony to Congress, have repeatedly requested more detention beds to accommodate migrant adults with children. They also criticize a court order, known as the Flores settlement, that limits the amount of time border and immigration authorities can hold children in detention facilities. Those two issues — the lack of detention beds and legal limitations to family detention — are frequently assailed by those favoring more restrictions to current immigration levels as loopholes. Immigrant advocates reject prolonged detention and restrictions to asylum law.  

On May 6, Arizona’s Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives asked the leader of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to appoint a federal crisis coordinator to support the largely non-governmental network helping migrant families released by border and immigration officials.

Sen. Martha McSally told KTAR on May 9 there needs to be improvement to border infrastructure and staffing, but also said Congress should “update and modernize our legal (immigration) system so we are bringing in the best and brightest.”

In April, Townsend traveled to a border area near Yuma, which is the busiest region for arrests of migrant family members outside of Texas. A video of Townsend’s trip was posted by AZ Patriots, a right-wing group whose members hold nationalistic views. Two members from the group were banned from the state House of Representatives. The group often broadcasts its activities live on social media, and has been intercepting migrants who just crossed the border to question them.

In the April video, Townsend said her main concern was that the migrants arriving in the U.S. were registering to vote in federal elections. Only U.S. citizens can register to vote. There is no evidence that migrants, who typically are fleeing violence and economic persecution in Central America, are registering to vote.

In the video, Townsend added she didn’t want to be callous to the perils migrants, especially women and children, face on their journey north.   

“This is a federal issue. The federal government is supposed to be stopping this and, as you can see… they’re not,” Townsend said in the video.

Arizona’s 29 Democrats in the state House called on Governor Doug Ducey in April to provide assistance to churches and other nonprofit groups aiding migrant families, including finding a “long-term shelter solution” for asylum seekers.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura 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 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.