Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, accompanied by Chairman Scott Vandervoet, talks to members of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas on Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema advocated for an all-of-the-above approach to dealing with what she termed a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border in a visit to Nogales on Tuesday.
The senator repeated calls to return staff to local ports of entry, three weeks after dozens of Customs and Border Protection officers were reassigned from Nogales ports to assist Border Patrol with migrant apprehensions, but she did not offer details on how she thought limited personnel should be divided to address strains both on port traffic and migrant processing.
During the visit, Sinema toured the border wall and the Dennis DeConcini and Mariposa Ports of Entry, spoke to officials from Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection and held a meeting with produce executives at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
Members of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas talk to Sen. Sinema about their concerns.
Photo by Genesis Lara
“Some people say, ‘Just fund a border wall,’ (but) I am one of the people who says funding for infrastructure makes sense, but funding for staffing and technology also makes sense. We have to do all of those together,” Sinema told the NI in a conversation after the meeting at the FPAA.
The senator’s visit comes as Border Patrol struggles to handle rising numbers of asylum-seekers, with lines at local ports of entry increasing as a consequence of the agency’s move to assign more personnel to assist with migrant processing.
On March 27, then-CBP Comissioner Kevin McAleenan announced plans to move hundreds of CBP officers from ports of entry to help Border Patrol process migrants along the border in Texas. Mayor Arturo Garino, citing information from Nogales Port Director Michael Humphries, said that Nogales would lose 75 officers as part of the move.
Border Patrol apprehended 361,087 migrants along the Southwest border in the first six months of Fiscal Year 2019, more than in the first six months of any of the previous five years, according to CBP statistics.
Nogales has not seen a recent uptick in migrant arrivals similar to that in Texas, but Humphries said that local ports would be affected by the staffing losses. “There’s no other way about it. Wait times are going to increase,” he said.
In a letter dated April 2, Sinema and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally called on McAleenan to reverse the decision to take staff away from ports of entry and wrote that “different options must be explored.”
Sinema said that she has not received a response from McAleenan, who was designated acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security after Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure from the job on April 10, and did not bring the letter up in a meeting with him last week.
Asked on Tuesday what different options she was referring to, Sinema said: “we should hire more people.”
Local ports of entry have been understaffed for years and CBP has long struggled to hire new officers.
In his comments after McAleenan’s March 27 announcement, Humphries said that he expected to swear in two new officers the following week, but that a long training period contributed to the difficulty in adding personnel at the ports.
In Sinema’s meeting at the FPAA, produce executives highlighted concerns about the impact that staff losses at the ports would have on cross border trade, including the cancellation of Sunday cargo processing at the Mariposa port.
Longer lines at the ports are also taking a toll on local residents who cross frequently for work, school, or to visit family and friends.
Sinema repeatedly declined to offer a stance when asked whether commercial, passenger, or pedestrian lanes should be prioritized.
“I would say that the individuals who run the ports of entry should make those decisions,” she said.