Arizona Governor Asks Biden Administration How Asylum-Seeking Process Will Be Implemented
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he wants some answers from the federal government on how the decision to again process asylum seekers will affect Arizona.
In a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, the governor complained that the agency has not consulted with local law enforcement and health officials about what he called the "hasty announcement'' by the Biden administration to repeal the Migrant Protection Protocols that had been instituted by former President Trump.
That had all but locked down the program, forcing those seeking admission to wait in Mexico.
Now the Biden administration is expected to restart the program as early as Friday, though the White House says no one is being admitted just yet.
The problem with all of that, the governor said, is no one has apparently bothered to check with the people in Arizona who will have to deal with the influx.
Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin acknowledged that asylum applications were being processed for years before Trump changed the policy. And he said that Ducey has never been among those who have advocated for sealing the border with Mexico.
But he said what the Biden administration announced is not simply a return to the way things were before.
"One of the big differences between now and then is COVID-19,'' Karamargin said. And that, he said, has resulted in lots of questions from those on the ground.
"So we are conveying the questions that we've received to DHS,'' Karamargin said.
Ducey was very specific in his letter to Mayorkas about what he wants to know.
"How will individuals be monitored for health concerns and protected from COVID-19,'' the governor asked.
He also wants to know whether the administration has plans to keep migrants distanced from one another while awaiting testing results. And Ducey wants a commitment from the federal government to quarantine all migrants who test positive for the virus so they are not released while contagious.
There was no immediate response late Wednesday to inquiries to Homeland Security about the governor's letter.
In a press release Tuesday, the White House announced it will begin to process eligible individuals to have their claims of asylum heard in the United States. There will be a "virtual registration process'' accessible from any location.
"Once registered, eligible individuals will be provided additional information about where and when to present themselves,'' the statement said, telling people to not approach the border until advised.
All that is designed to begin to scrap the Migrant Protection Protocols which Trump launched in 2019, dubbed the "remain in Mexico'' program, amid the former president's claims that the asylum system allowed people with meritless claims to apply.
Administration officials said they will begin by processing about 25,000 migrants now in Mexico with active claims. That requires not just registration but being tested for COVID-19 before coming to a U.S. port of entry.
Not everything the governor is asking about is related to COVID.
For example, Ducey wants Mayorkas to tell him how his agency will be held accountable to ensure that those who are admitted while awaiting hearings actually show up. There also are questions about whether additional asylum judges will be needed and how the administration intends to deal with asylum seekers who have criminal records.
On a more practical level, the governor said the faith-based and community organizations that tend to help migrants have been hampered by challenges to fundraising during the pandemic. That, he said, leads in turn to questions about whether the federal government intends to provide resources and personnel to provide needed services to asylum seekers.
Karamargin sidestepped the question of whether Ducey is demanding that the administration not implement the policy change until the governor gets the answers he wants.
"He is pointing out that the policy appears to have been implemented without contacting the folks on the ground, and then asking a series of questions about what the impact might be,'' Karamargin said.
The administration has suggested it would be handling the processing at three border entry points. But there has been no announcement whether that will include any of the crossings in Arizona.