By Kylee Cruz
Politicians, tribal leaders and the head of a local humanitarian group in Arizona’s Yuma County called on a politically diverse delegation of senators from around the U.S. to pass immigration reform amid an increase in migrant arrivals that can overwhelm local resources. Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema, an Independent, and Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn led the eight-member delegation to Yuma, one day after they made a similar visit to El Paso, Texas.
Sinema and Sen. Mark Kelly led the group of lawmakers during the visit to the border town of Yuma. During Tuesday’s visit, the senators met with border patrol agents, the National Guard and the Yuma County Sheriff. They also toured a border patrol processing center and meet with an organization helping asylum seekers.
The two-state tour comes amid calls for Washington to find new ways to deal with growing numbers of people from around the world arriving at the U.S. southern border. It follows President Joe Biden’s visit to El Paso Sunday on his way to a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City. Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, a Republican, has repeatedly called on leaders in Washington to come up with lasting policy changes. “Money doesn’t make it go away,” said Nicholls, saying that additional funding is “just a stop gap.”
Biden in recent days announced a major immigration policy shift that will create new pathways to the U.S. for some migrants. But it will also require migrants in many instances to remain in their home countries while their cases are weighed. “This is a very, very difficult issue, but this is a group of senators with a history of getting things done,” said Sinema.
Hundreds of people coming from countries as diverse as Russia, Georgia, India and Nicaragua have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma County daily, many seeking asylum. Yuma just a few years ago was a sleepy spot on the border that saw about 8,000 such arrivals every year.
“It’s a really big challenge. This is a global issue we are experiencing,” said Amanda Aguirre, president and CEO of the Regional Center for Border Health, Inc., which helps new arrivals with transportation so they can reunite with relatives in the U.S. while waiting for their asylum cases to be heard.
“I really hope that they get to see the realities and they ask the questions that need to be asked and then take that home and take action on it,” Nicholls said. He welcomed the senator’s visit and hoped they gained some new perspective after meeting with stakeholders and leaders in the Yuma community. “These kinds of visits are extremely important. We always encourage them. We’ve had different groups come through over the years, not this large of a group of senators, so this is significant for us. And just for them to be able to see it firsthand and talk to the different elements along the way, not just the cities, not just looking at the border, but all those people that are involved in agencies,” Mayor Nicholls said.
Sen. Sinema and Kelly will be joined by six senators: four Republicans and two Democrats. “I’m convinced that we can come together and come up with a solution on this issue that strengthens our border. But at the same time, provides, you know, what we need to support our economy,” Senator Kelly said while speaking along the El Paso border on Monday.
The group of senators spent Monday on the Texas-Mexico border where they toured the border and held a roundtable discussion with leaders in El Paso. “We’re working together in a coalition to find a congressional answer to this problem. We call on the administration to do a better job of administering the laws that we have in place, but we know that it is our job as members of Congress to change those laws and close the loopholes so that we can indeed create a system that works for all people,” Senator Sinema said.
The rest of the group included Republican Sens. Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, James Lankford, of Oklahoma and Jerry Moran of Kansas; and Democratic Sens. Chris Coons, of Delaware and Chris Murphy, of Connecticut.