Originally published by The New York Times
The mayor of Yuma, Ariz., a town on the front lines of the latest surge in migration on the southwestern border, signed a proclamation of emergency on Tuesday as his community struggled to cope with an unprecedented number of migrant families released there by the Border Patrol.
In a news conference posted on the town’s Facebook page, Mayor Douglas Nicholls said he was seeking help from state and federal authorities as a result of the “imminent threat” posed by “too many migrant releases into our community.”
“It is something that we need to do to make sure that our community is maintained and that the human rights of all the migrants are maintained and that we have a path forward that respects both,” said Mr. Nicholls, who leads an agricultural city of about 100,000 people.
“We are looking for a FEMA-type response. This is not a natural disaster, but it is a disaster either way. Their resources could come in and take care of the situation,” said the mayor, referring to the need for help from government resources such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A growing number of migrants are entering through remote areas of Arizona and New Mexico. Customs and Border Protection officials said more than 1,000 migrants had been apprehended in the Yuma sector over the past three days. On Saturday, a group of 50 Central Americans surrendered to agents in the area.
Mr. Nicholls said local nonprofits had been doing their best to provide migrants with shelter, food and assistance to arrange travel to their final destinations in the interior of the country. However, “the transportation network is insufficient to keep up with demand. The backlog of people has created this capacity issue,” he said.
Since opening three weeks ago, the only migrant shelter in Yuma has grown quickly, from housing 60 people at first to 200, its official maximum capacity. On Tuesday, it was sheltering 214 migrants, all of them men and women with children, and more were on their way.
“With the amount of people arriving, this is very quickly escalating to the point we won’t be able to handle it,” said Capt. Jeffrey Breazeale, the Yuma County coordinator for the Salvation Army, which is running the shelter with the help of staff and volunteers from Catholic Community Services.
“It’s a southern border crisis, and we are seeking help from the federal government,” Mr. Breazeale said. “The only way we know how to do that is declare an emergency.”
A high-ranking border patrol official in Yuma said recently that officers there had been overwhelmed by an entirely new population of border crossers that the agency was not prepared to handle: families.
From the beginning of the fiscal year on Sept. 1 through March 31, Yuma experienced a 273 percent increase in the number of migrants apprehended in the area by the Border Patrol, to 24,194 from 6,487 who arrived during the same period the previous fiscal year. The number of unaccompanied children taken in by authorities, totaling 3,679, was 51 percent higher.
The Border Patrol has invested thousands of dollars on supplies — including feminine care products, diapers and baby formula — to help accommodate the influx of families. The Yuma office had been approved for overtime funding and additional agents, but none of it has been enough to handle the rising number of asylum seekers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation.
California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have all been scrambling to handle the surge in migrant arrivals, most of whom are coming through Mexico from Central America. The number of families has eclipsed the number that arrived during the last spike, which occurred during the Obama administration.
Despite the crush of the arrivals, authorities have not dropped migrants in the streets of Yuma. Mr. Nicholls said the city had not spent any of its own funds on the migrants, and had relied instead on donations from the community, for everything from coloring books to diapers.
He said he had spoken with the staff of Gov. Doug Ducey, who will receive the declaration, and had held discussions with the Department of Homeland Security. He said he hoped that the emergency declaration would trigger further assistance.
“This has moved faster than I believe anyone had predicted. The solution rests at the federal level,” said the mayor, adding that he planned to enlist other municipalities to take a similar stance.