As the expiration of the pandemic-era public health emergency measure known as Title 42 draws attention to Texas, another state of Arizona is bracing for a crisis.
Republican Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Democrat-turned-independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) have introduced a bill proposing a two-year extension of Title 42. The legislation is aimed at providing Congress with ample time to negotiate broader immigration reform. Their legislative effort has the support of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jon Tester (D-MT)
In her rare “pen and pad” sit-down with the press at the Senate, Senator Sinema alongside Senator Tillis, shed light on the fallout from President Biden’s letting the Title 42 expire. Sinema discussed the chaos that has engulfed the border, particularly in Arizona. The transportation of migrants from small border towns, according to her, remains the top priority for border patrol sector chiefs, sheriffs, and mayors.
In her own words, Senator Sinema pointed out the dire situation in Yuma, a small farming community with only one bus stop serviced by two Greyhound buses per day. “There’s a capacity of about 50 per bus,” she noted. “So if you’re getting 1,000 people in every night, but only 100 commercial spots on buses in a day, obviously there’s nowhere for these folks to go.” According to Sinema, “There’s not a single shelter” in Yuma, which means that people might have to be bussed to Tucson or Phoenix, both of which are three-hour drives that need to be done multiple times daily.
“We don’t have enough buses. We don’t have enough drivers. Now the same thing is occurring in other parts of southern Arizona,” Sinema added, underscoring the issue’s magnitude.
Sinema: Where are the migrants going to go?
According to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, on the morning of the expiration of Title 42, there were 96 individuals released in the small town of Nogales, as the bus sent to pick them up broke down on the way. “One of the challenges that we’re facing is that the federal government is not providing enough buses or drivers, or we call decompression efforts to pull people out of those small border towns into other areas. And the challenge is that when you drop migrants off in these small towns, they literally have nowhere to go,” said Sinema.
In 2021, the mayor of Gila Bend, a small town in Arizona, had to personally transport migrants in his vehicle because the town did not have a city car. The migrants needed to be taken to a shelter in Phoenix, where there was no available sleeping space. “Now, that is what we’re facing in Arizona,” revealed Sinema.
“Now, it’s a little bit different in Texas because the Texas border cities tend to be a little bit larger and have more infrastructure. But in Arizona, they’re talking about releasing migrants in the town of Naco. Naco has a population of fewer than 900 people. Where are the migrants going to go? And what we will see is what we’ve seen in the past, migrants sleeping on farm roads,” she explained.
According to Senator Sinema, there have been several instances of migrants sleeping on roads in Yuma, posing a danger to themselves and others. In one case, a farmer almost ran over a migrant sleeping on a road leading to a farm. “This is a very dangerous situation,” Sinema emphasized. “So that’s the number one concern that we’ve seen. The federal government has not prepared even though they were asked to do so by their sector chiefs for the amount of transportation and movement processing to get folks out of those communities and throughout the country outside of the small border towns.”
Sinema: The end of Title 42 was premature
Sinema did not hold back at criticizing the Biden administration. “Their willful failure to prepare for the end of Title 42 means that my state bears the brunt of the crisis that is coming,” Sinema said. “That is fundamentally unfair and I don’t believe that is an appropriate way to seek to spur action on the part of Congress, because it’s my state, the border communities in my state, and the migrants themselves who are facing this humanitarian crisis.
When asked by The Pavlovic Today for her message to President Biden regarding the issues raised by her and Senator Tillis, Senator Sinema was forthright.
“The end of Title 42 was premature and the administration chose not to prepare adequately for it.The administration could extend the time for Title 42 on its own, and actually do the preparations.Prepare for an orderly end of Title 42,” she said. Responding to whether she has reached out to the White House to request a meeting with Biden, Sinema said that her efforts were not met with the understanding.
“We have communicated with the White House over and over and over again about these concerns. And we have a difference of opinion on what this crisis looks like on the ground.”
Senator Tillis interjected to point out that despite the border patrol chief’s assertion that they have reached their peak and no higher influx of migrants is expected, questions remain. “I’m trying to understand how that fits with the President’s decision to deploy 1500 additional troops to relieve border patrol of administrative duties so they can be there?” he asked.
“I believe even the administration knows that the situation is going to worsen,” Senator Tillis added. “And these breakdowns in the entire process? We haven’t even talked about the hundreds of bodies that have been recovered over the last 12 months of people dying on US soil who have crossed the border. We need to fix this, and I think deploying additional troops is a step in the right direction.”
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