Preparing for the influx of immigrants

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TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — In less than a month, the federal government is expected to stop using a federal health law to limit immigration. Now, authorities in Tucson are considering how they will deal with an expected increase in the number of asylum seekers.

The Trump Administration used part of title 42, the federal public health law intended to restrict immigration in the name of reducing the risk of COVID entering the United States across the Mexican border. Now, more than two years later, the Biden administration plans to lift the law and deal with more than two years of pent-up demand.

Title 42 allowed the United States to limit asylum claims and expedite deportations. This has led to immigrants waiting in camps and shelters just south of the US-Mexico border, waiting for a chance to convince immigration officials that they credibly fear they are in danger from things like gang violence if they go back to Central America.

Today, American authorities are worried about the effects of a wave of immigrants.

Gail Kocourek is with Tucson Samaritans, a group that assists at-risk immigrants in dangerous desert crossings. She is monitoring immigration trends and says she doesn’t see a new surge underway.

“We have not heard of the arrival of large groups of caravans. I just had a friend come back from a month in Guatemala and she’s been going there for years, spending a month bringing medical aid to the mountain villages and she’s not expecting a big wave of people from Guatemala.

But that still leaves Mexican border towns like Nogales, Sonora with plenty of immigrants awaiting asylum.

Kocourek wonders if immigrants were at greater risk for COVID than anyone else.

Pima County says it tested 25,000 immigrants who entered the shelter Casa Alitas Catholic Community Services operates with the county.

The county says more than 1,200 people have tested positive for a positivity rate of 5% and the rate for April is 2%. The Arizona Department of Health says statewide COVID rates were 12.1% over the current span of the pandemic.

There are concerns about how the county will accommodate any wave of immigrants.

The county says Casa Alitas can normally house about 250 asylum seekers a day before they sponsor families across the country. Leased motel space adds approximately 180 spaces.

But Pima County estimates that CBP could release about 650 immigrants to the area each day.

Pima County says it is working to improve transportation resources to help migrants leave the area to join sponsoring families while their asylum claims go through the courts.

Federal funds have helped pay for Pima County’s immigration response, but there are concerns that federal reimbursement may one day stop. So far, Pima County says it has more than $1.2 million to carry over into next month.

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Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. Craig loves how reporting can be a passport to interesting experiences. With over 30 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered over 40 space shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Craig enjoys using innovative writing and visuals to make difficult stories easier to understand and his work has won numerous awards. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig via email [email protected] or by connecting to Facebook and Twitter.

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