Sen. Sinema in Yuma talks impact of border on first responders, other federal funding for region
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema met with Yuma County first responders and business leaders in separate meetings this week.
Sen. Sinema, who is the chair of the Border Management Subcommittee, heard from police and fire leaders from Yuma, Somerton and San Luis on how they are looking for federal money to reimburse them for the migrant care they continue to provide.
"When I hear folks from other parts of the country say 'our shelters are overwhelmed', yeah? Come live a day in the lives of (first responders in) Yuma, Somerton and San Luis. Just one day."
The fire and police chiefs all said that when they are called to assist migrants with medical care that it takes those firefighters and officers away from already small forces.
The local departments have a mutual aid agreement.
That means, say, if an officer or firefighter from San Luis is called to the border, a counterpart from Somerton or Yuma may help cover a resident situation in San Luis.
"35 percent of our calls are either to the (San Luis) port of entry or to the border desert area," San Luis Fire Chief Angel Ramirez told KAWC. "That always creates a strain on San Luis because we have to dedicate resources to those calls for service."
"We need to upstaff our units to be able to continue having the same services that the residents of San Luis need and deserve," Chief Ramirez said.
He added that one way his department is addressing the shortage of firefighters is to participate in a countywide fire academy to hire more firefighters. Still, all of south Yuma County, which includes the Cocopah Reservation, is served by five ambulances.
Receiving federal funding, has been a priority for border communities, since before the sunset of Title-42 on May 11.
And while an expected surge in migrants never happened after the COVID era protocol expired, agents still encounter asylum seekers at the border everyday.
Yuma Fire Department leaders said that between fiscal years 2020 and 2022, the number of migrant emergencies and rescues quadrupled, requiring YFD to use the equivalent of four months of personnel hours to respond to these emergencies.
Following the meeting at City Hall, Sen. Sinema traveled to the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation for another roundtable meeting.
Sinema met with elected officials from throughout the region, community representatives and Dr. Daniel Corr, the president of Arizona Western College.
Sinema discussed federal funding for Yuma and economic opportunities for the region.
Among projects the senator said she supported is securing funding for the San Luis Port of Entry modernization and expansion project. She said the plan will better secure the border and keep families safe while improving cross-border traffic and trade.
“This is just the beginning," Sinema said. "There will be more funds from our bipartisan infrastructure law that will be dispersed over the coming years and I want to continue to identify tools to ensure that Yuma (County) gets all the resources and the support (you need). And really what I want to do in this session is just hear from you about what you need and how I can be helpful.”
Dr. Corr said, that while AWC continues to grow, a cut in federal funding to colleges nationwide is concerning.
"I am a little disappointed,” he said.
Sinema said she helped Yuma International Airport receive $1.1 million to replace decades-old flooring and improve safety and accessibility for travelers and employees.
The senator said she supported an $8.5 million RAISE Grant for the Wellton-Mohawk Canal to Aberdeen Road Project – completing the final design for about 9 miles of safety improvements on U.S. Highway 95.
At the conclusion of the 45-minute session at GYEDC, Sinema asked each person to keep in contact with her office and said she will take their concerns back to the Senate.
“I'm just really excited about what's happening in Yuma County and and this is just really, it's really exciting stuff," Sinema said. "I have a long list of stuff to work on with each of you, my team will follow up."
"Everyone should have our contact information, but I'd love to make sure we're following up on each of these conversations that we've had so that we can be as helpful as possible," the senator continued. "This goes without saying, but you can count on us to keep fighting for you.”
During the roundtable, Sinema also spoke about pending federal legislation, that will impact Arizona residents.
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was in Yuma on Wednesday to meet separately with local first responders on how they are being impacted by the steady numbers of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and business leaders about federal funding for Yuma and economic opportunities for the region.
Sen. Sinema first met with area elected officials and law enforcement officers at Yuma City Hall about how migrant services remain busy despite lower numbers than in recent months amid a period of extreme heat.
The senator said she has secured more than $1 billion for migrant services through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) and the new Customs and Border Protection (also known as CBP) Shelter and Services Grant Program (SSP). She said the funding helps non-profits and communities on the frontlines of the border and immigration crisis provide assistance to migrants – helping keep families safe and ensuring migrants are treated fairly and humanely.
Sinema said it is wrong that communities including New York City and Chicago take away some funding for migrant services from communities including Somerton, San Luis and Yuma that are the first step in processing migrants who cross illegally.
“When we fight hard to get some level of relief funding to just fairly compensate border communities for the work they're doing to address the federal government's failure to solve this problem... is very frustrating," she said.
Sinema then met with community leaders at the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation. She met with officials from
Arizona Western College, the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation and a broadband group.
Stay tuned to KAWC and kawc.org for more from Sen. Sinema's latest Yuma visit.