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Arizona border community leaders differ in approach to Title 42’s end – The Arizona Republic

Leaders in communities along the Arizona-Mexico border are preparing in contrasting ways for the likely end of a pandemic-era border restriction.

Officials are estimating that thousands of migrants may attempt to cross the southern border when the Trump-era Title 42 health policy is expected to end in less than a week.

Some leaders don’t expect a big impact. Another is declaring an emergency. But all agree that immigration reforms are a necessary long-term solution going forward.

Local and state leaders have long called for the Biden administration to enact a comprehensive plan before lifting Title 42, which is slated to end on Dec. 21. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released framework plans Tuesday that largely updated its “six pillars” response plan it first released in April, focusing on surging resources and personnel at the border and implementing long-term consequences for unlawful entry.

Aside from the document, DHS has released few official details about how it will manage the border when the policy lifts.

Title 42, a controversial border restriction invoked in March 2020, has allowed border officials to rapidly expel migrants and shutter ports of entry to asylum seekers. The policy has bottled up tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants in Mexican border cities. It’s been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times.

What to expect: Title 42 limits on migration could be ending. What could happen next?

Nogales, Ariz., Mayor Arturo Garino said that no preparations are in place for when the restriction is lifted as border officials don’t expect the city to experience a major impact.

However, Yuma-area leaders are bracing for a strain on humanitarian and health care resources.

Growing concern:‘We have to be ready’: Aid groups prepare for migrants when Title 42 ends

Arizona is often only a stopover for many migrants traveling through the state, who reach their final destination in other parts of the country. Along the way, however, humanitarian organizations in cities from the border to Phoenix provide food, transportation and short-term housing.

Local officials worry that the increase in migrant arrivals may overwhelm the organizations and their resources in border communities.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway, whose county includes Nogales, has long been critical of Title 42 and welcomed the decision to rescind the restriction. His office will continue with business as usual once the policy is lifted, he said.

“Title 42 is ridiculous,” Hathaway said.

Hathaway emphasized that immigration reforms are needed and suggested increasing the number of immigration judges on the border to facilitate the court processes for asylum seekers. U.S. immigration courts are currently congested with a 1.9 million-case backlog, according to Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse.

“They need to go back to Title 8 and do the normal immigration processing … instead of just keep passing the buck and keep putting more people in the virtual line,” Hathaway said.

Yuma supervisor: ‘It’s an emergency now’

Marco Antonio “Tony” Reyes, chairperson of the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, declared an emergency in unincorporated areas of the county Wednesday in preparation for the expected influx of migrants at the border.

Reyes cited an estimated increase in the number of migrants entering the county and a “triple threat” of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza as reasoning for his declaration. Over the past month, Reyes has received increased reports that the hospital system is getting overwhelmed, he said.

Yuma County is currently designated as “high” in terms of COVID-19 levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reyes called a meeting with the Border Patrol, local and law enforcement officials from nearby cities to discuss the situation before his declaration, he said. Everyone had the same story, he said: They’re overwhelmed.

“It’s just gotten to a point where it really is overwhelming everyone,” Reyes said. “I just can’t see how you stand around and wait for things to get any worse than they are right now and then call it an emergency. I think it’s an emergency now.”

While Reyes said he was reluctant to declare an emergency, he said it was needed to more easily access resources to help mitigate the situation.

“The projected increase of asylum seekers and migrants has, and will, continue to strain the ability of medical staff and local hospital resources to provide essential and necessary medical care to Yuma residents as well as the migrant community,” the declaration read.

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Yuma mayor laments lack of a plan: ‘Highly chaotic’

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls criticized the federal government for not having a plan in place for when Title 42 ends and described the experience as “very frustrating” from the perspective of local communities that have to bear the brunt of the fallout from federal decisions.

“From the minute Title 42 went in place, we knew it was going to have a sunset somewhere,” Nicholls said. “I’ve been asking, for over a year and a half, the federal government on what’s the plan, how are we going to transition off of Title 42.”

Nicholls said a cold start and end to a policy such as Title 42 can generally be “highly chaotic.”

Border Patrol agents see about 800 to 1,000 asylum-seeking migrants present themselves daily near the Cocopah Reservation, where the border wall ends near Yuma. More than 25,000 migrant encounters have been reported in the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector thus far in fiscal year 2023, which began Oct. 1, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

“It’s very frustrating from the perspective of how you manage the situation on the border,” Nicholls said. “How do you have a positive impact when no one wants to face reality in Washington, D.C.?”

While the majority of migrants encountered in the Yuma Sector are processed under Title 8, and not Title 42, the end of the restriction will hinder officials’ ability to transfer migrants to neighboring sectors if trends remain the same, Nicholls said.

Once nearby Border Patrol sectors, such as Tucson and San Diego, become inundated with higher numbers of migrants, the trends will impede the Yuma Sector’s ability to share the processing workload, he said.

“When Title 42 goes away, the resources we’ve been relying on to surge people to are going to be filled up with their own activity,” Nicholls said.

Is Border Patrol ready? US officials offer few details on plans when Title 42 policy lifts

Solutions needed in wake of Title 42

Nicholls urged the federal government to add resources on the ground, increasing the number of agents that will be available to handle the anticipated uptick in processing and boosting transportation options for migrants out of Yuma.

Since February 2021, the Regional Center for Border Health has been assisting migrants released by Border Patrol in the Yuma area. The center has helped migrants find transportation options out of Yuma and to bigger cities where they can then access buses and flights to their final destinations in the country.

“If the government can’t figure out a way to mitigate this problem and reduce these numbers, then they should be able to stand up for the consequences they’re causing,” Nicholls said.

Jobe Dickinson, president of the Border Security Alliance, a group of former Border Patrol and law enforcement officers, echoed Nicholls in a news release urging the federal government to implement long-term solutions to ease the strain on local border communities. Dickinson suggested that officials reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” program, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, that forced migrants to wait for their immigration case hearings from Mexico.

“While it was never meant to be a permanent fix to border security, (Title 42) has been heavily relied upon for nearly 3 years due to the lack of resources and staffing along the border,” Dickinson said in the release.

“Our local communities and law enforcement cannot handle additional large migrant caravans entering our communities without any federal mitigation policies.”

A federal judge in Amarillo, Texas, on Thursday ruled the Biden administration wrongly ended “Remain in Mexico,” a Trump-era policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. The ruling has no immediate impact on Title 42 restrictions.

The Remain in Mexico policy, after being introduced in January 2019, was used to force about 70,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. hearings. President Joe Biden suspended the policy his first day in office, starting a long series of legal and administrative challenges.

Title 42 march: Hundreds march in Nogales, Sonora, to protest pandemic restrictions

In Nogales, Sonora, roughly 750 migrants are on waitlists prepared to ask for asylum in the U.S., according to a November 2022 report from the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin.

Despite the awaiting asylum seekers, Nogales Mayor Garino said he doesn’t expect much of a change in the city whether Title 42 is lifted or not. Garino acknowledged that there’s a possibility of an influx of migrants as word spreads that the restriction is gone.

“I don’t think anything different is going to happen if they lift it or they don’t lift it,” Garino said. “I don’t think there’s going to be an influx of people just walking around waiting to be transported north.”

Garino recently met with CBP officials who told him that they expect a small increase in people coming through but that Nogales “has nothing to worry about,” he said.

“They assured us that they don’t have that much concern,” Garino said.

Includes information from Associated Press.

Have a news tip or story idea about the border and its communities? Contact the reporter at or connect with him on Twitter @joseicastaneda.

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