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After Meeting With Sen. McSally On Migrant Crisis, Some Arizona Community Leaders Left Disappointed

By Lauren Gilger, Steve Goldstein
Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 12:29pm
Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2019 - 8:31am

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Martha McSally
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Arizona Sen. Martha McSally answers questions from reporters outside the Phoenix office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 1, 2019.

LAUREN GILGER: Yesterday, Sen. Martha McSally met with NGOs, elected officials and border enforcement representatives for a round table on the immigrant crisis at the border. Here's how she described the gathering.

MARTHA MCSALLY: We've had 18,500 individuals released into the community in Arizona over just the last couple of months and the numbers continue to go up. So we had a good discussion about some of the challenges, with coordination and communication challenges, with the, just the overwhelming numbers that they're having. There's continuing a discussion up there without me because I got to the airport here and fly to D.C., but the conversation will to be continued.

GILGER: But for our next guest, Sent.  McSally's words, “to be continued,” are not enough. Jennifer Buck with All Hands AZ, a non-governmental organization that works to support migrant needs, says she and other invitees at yesterday's meeting were left disappointed. She's here to explain why. Jennifer, welcome.

JENNIFER BUCK: Thanks for having me.

GILGER: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about what was the issue here yesterday.

BUCK: Well, I think we all came in really optimistic. We are looking for governmental support. We're looking for somebody to step up and own this problem. And we came in very optimistic and unfortunately, I think a lot of us were left very disappointed.

GILGER: What were you hoping to get out of this?

BUCK: Well we were hoping that the government would step up and own this problem and acknowledge that as a state, we need to be able to control the flow. We need to be able to support the NGOs and faith-based communities that are helping this and actually be a part of the solution instead of attempting to put it back on the NGOs.

GILGER: And tell us where this problem stands right now, like how big has this gotten? How overwhelmed are you and other organizations like yours?

BUCK: Well I want to make it really clear that we are handling this issue. We are, as, you know, a faith-based community and with all of these nonprofit organizations, we are absolutely handling this. No one is going hungry. We are making sure that these people are within the city for 24 to 48 hours max. They're seen by doctors, they're clothed, they're taken care of and they are sent on their way. But what's happening right now is that everybody is pointing the finger at the other political figures and no one wants to own what's going on and we're looking for support. We're looking for someone to come in and help us make this better.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Well responsibility, support — these are important words. So does it become one of those things that, as you're trying to handle it though, it becomes more daunting, it becomes more challenging? I guess if we could get more specific, what are the expectations for other than sort of saying, ‘Hey we'll help you, we’ll support you,’ are there certain direct actions you'd like to see the government take, whether it's leadership from Sen. McSally, Sen. Sinema, someone like that?

BUCK: Yeah. You know, we have been working in concert with the Democratic leaders. They have stepped up. So McSally coming to the table yesterday was a bit late. I'm going to be honest. And so we have been asking for a few things. We need some type of permanent shelter. We need something that looks like what they did back when Hurricane Katrina occurred. We opened up the Coliseum, and we supported those people when they were in need. We also need some type of financial support. Right now, this is being carried on the backs of nonprofits, on the backs of the community. We've got 200 to 300 people being dropped a day in our community. And what's happening is that these groups are shielding the community from actually having to see these people sitting on the corner of 24th and Buckeye. So not only do we need a shelter, not only do we need some kind of financial support, we need some security frankly. We need somebody to step up and say that they're willing to protect the process that we are trying to facilitate for the city.

GILGER: So, if you do take Sen. McSally at her word there that this is a continuing process, it’s a good thing, though, you're getting attention from somebody at that level, right?

BUCK: Well yes. I mean we have actually had conversations with people at her level. We have had the conversations where we have heard that it's not a federal issue. We've been told that this is not something that our federal government is going to take on. And so they point to the local and state, and local and state is trying. They are genuinely talking to us behind the scenes attempting to help us out. But the problem is, our numbers are increasing. We have a very capable NGO community. We have an unbelievably supportive community that wants to give. I mean, it's unbelievable to see how this community has come forth to support us. That we have down, but what we need is for some of the political, you know, players to step up and say that they are willing to support us in the areas of shelter and some of the funding. That's really what we need.

GOLDSTEIN: I often wonder, too, whether how much of this is about — certainly you need practical financial support but also, even just the idea of spirit, feeling like you're kind of in this together as opposed to, no, no, you can take care of it. It almost seems like that's what you're expressing.

BUCK: Yeah. You know, the truth is, we all are loving what we're doing. This is a passion project and we love that we are taking care of people from the moment they're out of custody to being reunited with families. We love that and it brings many of us to tears saying goodbye to these people. But what we want is for our leaders to reflect the same values that we have. And that's not being seen. We want our organizations to be supported, but mostly we want our politicians to reflect what we believe in and we are not seeing that in their actions.

GILGER: One last question for you Jennifer before we let you go and briefly if you can, what would you say to people who don't know enough about who these people are who are coming and the migrants that are coming in and the numbers and what it is that they're going through. What do you want them to know about that?

BUCK: These people are petrified. They are absolutely terrified and running for their lives, and they are coming here because their lives are in danger. They are seeking asylum. They are looking for somebody to protect them, and I'm going to tell you that their belief in America is much greater than my neighbors, if I'm completely honest. They believe in us. They want to be a part of this. They are running to make sure that their children are safe, and we need to be able to be here to support them adequately. And we just need our government to step up and help us in that process.

GILGER: All right. Jennifer Buck with All Hands AZ, thank you for coming in.

BUCK: Thanks for having me.

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