Southwestern town struggles with influx of migrants at the border

GILA BEND, Ariz. (NewsNation Now) — A small town in Arizona has declared a state of emergency over migrants being dropped off there until shelters can take them in.

Gila Bend is a desert town with about 2,000 residents and one main road. Most of the traffic is just passing through on the way west to San Diego or south to the border, 75 miles away.

When Customs and Border Protection recently dropped off 16 migrants in Gila Bend, citing its selection for rural drops in various communities in Southern Arizona, the mayor was miffed.

“They basically brought them to our community park, dropped them in the park and left,” said Gila Bend Mayor Chris Riggs. “We were absolutely amazed that they would pick us because we simply have nothing here. We don’t have Greyhound, don’t have any type of shelters, we don’t even have a grocery store.”

The mayor and volunteers scrambled to immediately transport the six families from the park to a shelter in Phoenix 70 miles away.

“My initial thought was, what a ministry opportunity this is. These are people in need, who obviously lost hope in where they were living and they saw great hope here,” said Pastor David Sonnenberg.

The First Baptist Church of Gila Bend pastor said many community members offered donations, but he believes the mayor’s solution was wisest.

“Phoenix, I know has resources that we obviously don’t here, so, yeah, if you were going to put a bunch of the towns in Arizona that would be in your top 10, I’m not sure Gila Bend would even make that list,” said Sonnenberg.

The influx of migrants into Arizona has grown since the halt of border wall construction in January, leaving large sections open and unfinished.

With limited space at border facilities, local leaders are being warned of even larger releases soon.

The state’s two Democratic Senators, Mark Kelly and Krysten Sinema, have joined Republican Gov. Doug Ducey calling on President Joe Biden to address the crisis more urgently.

“We are deploying the National Guard on our own,” said Ducey.

The governor moved to deploy 250 National Guard troops last week as federal officials work to open new tent facilities to expand capacity in sheltering migrants.

While there have been no more drops in Gila Bend, Mayor Riggs has no plans to lift his state of emergency.

“I’m seeing the foot traffic, I’m seeing the trash, I’m seeing a lot of additional drug traffic that’s coming through here,” stated Riggs.

“A lot of people you see walking by obviously don’t live here. They’re obviously passing through. They’re not passing through in vehicles; they’re passing through on their feet. They’ve got a lot of supplies with them and they look like they’ve been walking for a while,” said Sonnenberg.

While some Arizona leaders insist the larger state of emergency is warranted, other border communities disagree.

The Democratic sheriffs of Santa Cruz and Pima counties have turned down any National Guard presence, saying no significant increase in the number of asylum-seekers.