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Arizona nonprofit creates transition center for migrants

The Regional Center for Border Health in Yuma County has helped more than 215,000 migrants since 2021.
Arizona nonprofit creates transition center for migrants
Posted at 11:51 AM, Mar 12, 2024

A group in Arizona is providing a critical resource for the community when it comes to helping prevent street releases when there is a surge in migrant crossings at the border.

For the past three years, the Regional Center for Border Health has helped hundreds of thousands of migrants by setting up a transition center to assist migrants on the next leg of their journey once they are released by Border Patrol agents and their asylum requests play out in immigration court.

By the busload they arrive — hundreds of migrants, all coming from different places, with different fears, and different circumstances in their lives — but they all have the same dream, the American dream.

SEE MORE: What are the border policy differences between Biden and Trump?

You can see just how exhausting the 3,000-mile journey from Bogota, Colombia, has been for Joanna Pena and her young daughter, Celeste. Joanna says in her home country, they live under constant threats from area gangs.

"I just want to give my daughter a better life, a better start," she said.

That road to a better life runs right through the Regional Center for Border Health, where hundreds of migrants come seven days a week.

The group provides migrants with food, water and COVID testing. They can charge their cell phones and use Wi-Fi, all to connect with family and friends here in the U.S. whom they will stay with as their asylum requests play out.

Scripps News Phoenix was there in May 2023, right as Title 42 was ending, and although numbers are down slightly from that surge, the flow of people is constant.

"It's easier to see buses or numbers, but we see the human face and we see the suffering a lot of them have been through," explained Alex Bejarano, community liaison for the Regional Center for Border Health.

What Bejarano and his team thought would be a three-month project to help with the early surge in 2021 has lasted for more than three years.

"This is a humanitarian crisis on a global scale," said Bejarano.

SEE MORE: As Texas seizes portion of US-Mexico border, locals seek resolution

"This is very different than any other time we've seen migration coming across the border," added Regional Center for Border Health President and CEO Amanda Aguirre. "There are victims of crimes, sex assaults, women and children — we've never seen this, so much violence from countries they are coming from."

A large part of the problem is that there simply isn't another group in Yuma County that can help people on this scale. Yuma County also lacks the infrastructure such as a mass transit system or a large airport like Maricopa County and the Phoenix metro area has.

"For us, being able to help the families that are released and assist Border Patrol with not having to have just the families walk into the streets of the city of Yuma, it's important for us. That's why we step in to help and provide a humanitarian effort to prevent street releases."

SEE MORE: Arizona border crossing with Mexico reopens 1 month after closure

Workers at the Regional Center for Border Health also help migrants book travel arrangements to stay with friends and family. The group says 99% of migrants pay for their own tickets, but they're able to provide assistance with computer and internet access so these individuals can actually purchase them once they are released from custody.

From there, the group takes migrants on buses to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport so they can board their flights. 

On the bus, Scripps News Phoenix met Guadalupe, who was traveling from Durango, Mexico, with her two teenage children to escape gang violence. She and her children are requesting asylum.

"The violence is so ugly," she said. "There's so much organized crime ... for my kids, I just want a better life for them."

For migrants who are not ready to travel the same day they arrive, the group offers a few nights to stay at an area hotel. There is also a church in Phoenix that can host migrants while they sort out their affairs.

This story was originally published by Nick Ciletti at Scripps News Phoenix.

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