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Pima County says migrant care costs $1 million a week. Losing federal funds means stopping services

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 - 4:15pm

Alisa Reznick/KJZZ
Border Patrol agents load up groups of 13 migrants into vans for processing further down the road.

A shelter in Pima County is scaling back operations amid a federal funding shortfall for migrant and asylum-seeker care.

Since 2019, Casa Alitas in Tucson has provided things like medical care, transportation aid and temporary shelter to hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers processed and released by Border Patrol agents along border in Arizona. The agency conducts street releases — migrant drop offs at places like bus stops and other public locations — if aid groups are not set up to help receive them. 

That's been largely avoided in Tucson. But Diego Piña Lopez, with Casa Alitas, says that’s all changing now.

"Without this federal funding, it’s hard to do the work at the volume that we’ve been doing for so long," he said. 

Pima County officials say the federal money that’s been sustaining those operations will run out by the end of next month. Piña Lopez says Casa Alitas is laying off more than two dozen staff members ahead of that date. They’re trying to find ways now to keep providing more barebones care.

"To decrease human suffering, really," he said. "And to me, right now the goal is, OK, what can we do for families, how many families can we take care of?"

Pima County officials say around 1,000 migrants a day are coming to Tucson. At a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting this week, County Administrator Jan Lesher estimated migrant care services were costing around $1 million a week, and said the county's program that Casa Alitas is part of would be forced to a halt without replenished federal funds. 

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