YUMA, Ariz. — Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, visited the border in Yuma, Arizona Wednesday after the mayor there declared a state of emergency.
Mayor Doug Nicholls says his city doesn’t have the resources to respond as the Border Patrol releases a growing number of migrants from custody.
Hunter and a group of other lawmakers toured detainee facilities and take an aerial tour on the planned visit. In a video posted after he arrived in Arizona, the congressman said the emergency was called because of “illegal aliens crossing the border by the hundreds and the thousands.”
“There’s an imminent threat of having too many migrant releases into our community, and it’s above our capacity as a community to sustain,” Nicholls said as he announced the measure Tuesday.
Nicholls told reporters he’s looking for a “FEMA-type response” to help his city deal with the influx.
“FEMA shows up at disasters all the time. This isn’t a natural disaster, but it is a disaster either way,” he said. “Their resources could come in and take care of the situation and would effectively handle that.”
Hunter tweeted photos from a DEA briefing he attended during the visit:
Despite the dire language in the proclamation, Nicholls told CNN affiliate KYMA he doesn’t believe the migrants are a danger to the community. The goal, he says, is to get more resources to Yuma to help manage the situation.
“Every person that has been released to us has had a background check and has a health check. They are not just adult males, they would be in family units,” Nicholls said. “We are not anticipating large-scale crime issues. We are not anticipating situations that would make Yuma a dangerous place.”
Mayor of Yuma Douglas Nicholls (@MayorNicholls) signed a Proclamation of Emergency in Yuma on Apr. 16, due to the high number of migrant family releases by USBP overwhelming the non-profit shelter system. View a video with his comments here: https://t.co/busj2rpP2Z pic.twitter.com/xNnQEsycKb
— City of Yuma (@cityofyuma) April 17, 2019
Local nonprofit groups have stepped up to help, Nicholls said, but they’re already stretched thin — and the city’s migrant shelter is running out of space.
“The nonprofits have done a great job of continuing to move migrants to their final destinations, which is not Yuma. They’re looking to move on to other destinations. However, the transportation network is just insufficient in order to keep up with the demand,” he said. “And the backlog of people staying at the shelter has created this capacity issue.”
The Border Patrol has released more than 11,000 migrant family members at nongovernmental shelters or bus stations along the border since March 19 when it began the practice of releasing noncriminal families directly from custody with notices to appear in court “as a last resort” as apprehensions spiked.
Nicholls, a Republican who was elected to be Yuma’s mayor in 2014, said he’s hoping other border communities will make similar declarations, so they can push together for more federal aid.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I declare that we’re at this point,” Nicholls said, “but it’s something that I believe we need to do to make sure our community is maintained and that the human rights of all the migrants are also maintained, and that we have a path forward that respects both.”
Yuma is in the southwest corner of Arizona. About 100,000 people live there.
This isn’t the first time local leaders in Arizona have pushed back against the federal government’s response to immigration. Earlier this year the Nogales City Council passed a resolution condemning the placement of razor wire on the border wall running through its downtown area.