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Yuma mayor urges border policy changes, says increase in migrant arrivals not sustainable

By Lauren Gilger
Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2023 - 11:26am

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Kyrsten Sinema Yuma border
Office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema
Kyrsten Sinema meets with Arizona state troopers at the Yuma border on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Politicians, tribal leaders and the head of a local humanitarian group in 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.

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, Texas, on Sunday on his way to a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City.

Efforts to pass major immigration reform in Congress have repeatedly stalled in recent years.

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.

Doug Nicholls
Ulysse Bex/Cronkite News
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls (center) takes part in a 2021 forum on immigration organized by GOP lawmakers in Washington.

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 stopgap.”

Democratic Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, who has visited the border numerous times during two years in office, was also in the delegation. 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.

The Show spoke with Nicholls to hear more on the situation in Yuma and the recent attention from Washington.

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