Opinion: The U.S. Border Patrol dumped 16 immigrants seeking asylum in Gila Bend this week. That’s just not right.
The U.S. Border Patrol dumped six Central American families, some with small children, at a park in Gila Bend last week.
Gila Bend is a town of 2,000 people, set deep into the desert about 80 miles north of the border. There are no shelters or hospitals.
Thirty miles of desert separates the town from the nearest city, Buckeye.
Yet U.S. Customs and Border Protection decided it would be a swell place to drop off 16 Central Americans in search of asylum.
This, apparently, is part of President Joe Biden’s kinder, gentler approach to the surge of immigrants showing up on Arizona’s doorstep.
In a month or two, as the desert heats up, you can add another adjective to that: deadlier.
This is the result of Biden’s bungling
We are a nation deeply divided about how (or whether) to fix the nation’s immigration system.
Republicans are once again screaming about “open borders” while President Joe Biden is deflecting any blame for the current crisis onto his predecessor.
Biden says it’s all Donald Trump’s fault for dismantling the nation’s immigration systems, leaving us with too little detention space and too few people to deal with surge of immigrants seeking a way into the country along the southwest border.
But Biden’s the guy who, whether he meant to or not, put out the welcome mat by eliminating all of Trump’s hardline policies before rebuilding a system to handle the inevitable rush to the border.
This, then, is the result: 16 people from Venezuela and Chile dumped on at a park in Gila Bend last Monday, with a few hours’ notice and no suggestion for what to do with them. Other small towns along the border are bracing for similar drop-offs.
“They literally just dropped them and drove off… ” Mayor Chris Riggs told The Arizona Republic’s Rafael Carranza. “I was looking at all those babies and thinking, ‘How could you do this? How you could take them to an area, into a country they don’t even speak the common language of, and just drop them in the middle of nowhere and leave them?’ ”
No resources to help and little warning
Residents of this mostly Hispanic town came out to try to help the families, offering food and translation.
“They were very emotional, a woman started crying, thanking God that they were in good hands now,” Gerardo Cruz, a local store owner, told 12News.
One of the children asked if this was Delaware, according to ABC-15. The child is trying to get there to reunite with his mother.
Riggs said the federal agents “were under the impression families could buy bus tickets here.” But tickets for the shuttle to Phoenix must be purchased 24 hours in advance, leaving the 16 immigrants stranded.
Riggs said the town’s insurance carrier told him he couldn’t use town-owned vehicles to transport the families anywhere because the Border Patrol hadn’t tested the immigrants for COVID-19. Eventually, he, his wife and a pair of volunteers borrowed some vans and brought them to a shelter in Phoenix.
They’ve been told to expect more drop offs in coming days, possibly as often as twice a week.
Why was Gila Bend left holding the bag?
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is vague on why it thinks Gila Bend is a suitable place to drop off immigrants who don’t speak English and, in fact, wonder whether they are in Delaware.
The agency insists the border isn’t open because most migrants are being returned to Mexico due to COVID-19. But it acknowledges that some immigrants are being released into the country to await asylum hearings, either because the federal government has no place to put them or due to individual circumstances.
In Yuma, The Republic’s Carranza reports the Border Patrol has released more than 1,300 migrants since mid February, most of them families or pregnant women. But at least Yuma has some non-profits that can help.
Gila Bend, by comparison, has more cactus than people. The Town Council has declared a state of emergency as it tries to figure out how a tiny town with no resources was left holding the bag for Biden’s mess.
And as importantly, how to help these people.
“This is just wrong,” Riggs said. “We need to take the politics out of it, and we need to just focus on right and wrong. The way these people are being treated is just flat out wrong.”
Biden should accept responsibility
Biden, meanwhile, says he’s not to blame.
During his press conference on Thursday, he dismissed the border surge as a seasonal thing that happens this time every year, never mind that his own Homeland Security Secretary recently said we’re on track to see more immigrants at the border than at any time in the last 20 years.
It’s disappointing the see Biden accept no responsibility for what has happened, and vaguely reminiscent of another president who seemed allergic to taking ownership of problems.
“I make no apologies for ending programs that did not exist before Trump became president,” Biden said in his Thursday press conference.
Well, he should make apologies for ending those policies before he set up a viable system to replace them.
More importantly, he should make other arrangements.
Kinder, gentler arrangements that don’t involve dropping immigrants off in the middle of nowhere.
Reach Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.