State now busing asylum seekers to Phoenix with shelters in southern Arizona full

Migrants and asylum seekers from Peru wait for Border Patrol agents to pick them up after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in San Luis, Ariz., on May 12, 2023. || Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic

José Ignacio Castañeda Perez, Daniel Gonzalez, & Rafael Carranza

Arizona Republic

DOUGLAS — A white U.S. Border Patrol bus trundled into the Douglas Visitor Center parking lot shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, carrying dozens of asylum seekers that agents had processed hours before.

They were among the growing numbers of asylum seekers being released by the Border Patrol in this border city and other communities in southern Arizona after Title 42 restrictions ended last week. The asylum seekers are now being transported by the state directly to Phoenix. Shelters in Tucson are full, and border communities don’t have shelters to accommodate asylum seekers.

Two idling charter buses waited in the parking lot for the Border Patrol bus to arrive. Three agents stepped out of the white bus and helped usher asylum seekers off, directing them to one of the two coach buses.

As the buses departed from the parking lot, Dennis Walto looked on a few steps away. He’s the chief of external affairs for Chiricahua Community Health Centers, a nonprofit rural health clinic in Cochise County.

Walto has been observing the bus transfers every day since the program was implemented last week. He applauded the coordination between the U.S. Border Patrol, city officials and religious organizations in Douglas to help receive and process people in an orderly fashion. 

“This is a resource-stretched community anyway, but the fact that everyone stepped in and stepped up really speaks to the community,” Walto said. 

“It’s what community looks like.”

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