Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls is speaking up about the recent surge of migrants in the Yuma sector on Arizona’s border with Mexico, explaining why it’s occurring and recommending solutions. He believes there are several factors contributing to the 2,405% increase in migrant apprehensions, and says there are both long-term and short-term ways to resolve the problem.
“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy of the Trump administration was ordered put back in place by the courts, but that has not fully happened,” he told The Arizona Sun Times. “In 2019 and 2020, there were 50 to 60 migrants a day being returned under the policy. Now, there are only about 10 a day. With 1,000 coming across the border daily now, that’s only 1%.”
The Remain in Mexico policy was re-implemented in Texas first around the beginning of winter, starting the surge as migrants shifted to Arizona’s border. Before Christmas, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for fixing small gaps in the border to address safety and environmental concerns, contributing to this second wave of the surge as migrants hurried to cross before the construction, State Rep. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) told The Sun Times.
Nicholls also blamed the Biden administration for the surge. “People know if they walk into this country, they’re going to stay. Very few are turned back,” he said.
Compounding the problem is the types of migrants are less likely to have clean criminal records, Nicholls said, so instead of presenting themselves to the Border Patrol in hopes of getting flown to another part of the country under the Biden administration’s program for migrants, they end up consuming time and resources locally. Some run off into the desert, some end up in homeless shelters, and now they’re starting to see some engaging in criminal activity. Nicholls said two weeks ago a migrant was apprehended who was on the terrorist watch list.
Dunn said this latest wave contains a high rate of migrants coming from countries where they’re not eligible for asylum, like Haiti.
“They avoid the Border Patrol and are uncooperative, it’s become a big problem in the last week,” he said.
A long-term solution Nicholls recommends is having other countries provide asylum, instead of trying to shore up so much of the burden here.
“We have a big role. However, that doesn’t mean it has to all happen on our land within our borders,” he told The Sun Times.
Another solution is to charge parents who send their children over the border alone or with a stranger with abandonment or child endangerment. Right now “there is no penalty for putting a 4- or 5-year-old child in an international country by themselves,” Nicholls said. He believes this would have a significant deterrent effect on asylum hearings.
A short-term solution Nicholls recommends is fixing gaps along the border. None of the repairs ordered by Mayorkas fix major gaps. Nicholls would also add another judge to handle asylum hearings. He said there are two courtrooms in the federal courthouse in Yuma, but only one of them is being used. If there aren’t enough judges locally, he said “a judge in Vermont” could conduct the hearings remotely. “We’ve been doing things virtually enough that the judge doesn’t have to physically be there.”
The situation needs to be viewed differently, he said.
“Nowhere else in the world would the U.S. stand behind a process that allows rape, indentured servitude, and abuse. It’s because of how it’s been labeled,” the mayor said.
Nicholls said he thinks people either find it acceptable or they’re intentionally ignoring those details. It costs $15,000 to be smuggled across the border, so in order for people in these impoverished countries to afford that, they are paying that under very unpleasant conditions, “in situations where they can be exploited.”
He explained that the Arizona National Guard has been an immense help on the border, as well as National Guards from other states like Kentucky, but they are limited in what they can do by the Posse Comitatus Act. It prohibits the military from enforcing domestic policies within the country. So those troops can look for migrants and help them with humanitarian aid, but they cannot detain them.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety has also been assisting, primarily with arresting drug smugglers, but their help is short-term, they do not have the resources to continue a long-term operation.
Nicholls said he expects the numbers crossing the border to continue increasing. At the current rate, over 250,000 are expected to cross this fiscal year into the Yuma sector. Texas has begun building its own wall on the border, which will divert migrants to the border with Arizona. Unlike Texas, much of Arizona’s land next to the border with Mexico is owned by the federal government or Native American tribes, so it is off-limits to state and local governments.
Nicholls said if people want to help with the situation, they can send a message to President Biden, their U.S. senators, and Mayorkas.
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