Gov. Katie Hobbs presses Biden to reopen Lukeville Port of Entry; shifts millions to the border
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs pressed the Biden administration Friday to shift resources to reopen the shuttered Lukeville Port of Entry, and dedicated millions in federal funding to support the state's response to the influx of people crossing the southern border.
Hobbs plans to visit the Lukeville crossing Saturday with Adjutant General Kerry Muehlenbeck, who leads the Arizona National Guard and state emergency response office. While there are no National Guard troops currently supporting border communities under Hobbs' orders, the governor said Friday that could change.
That visit is to "see, on the ground, what's going on and how we can best support" and "see if perhaps there's a mission for the Guard," Hobbs told reporters after a ribbon cutting for a Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona construction training program.
Hobbs' administration announced it would spend up to $5 million for the Arizona National Guard to support the state Department of Public Safety and local agencies along the border with fentanyl interdiction efforts and other tasks.
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In a letter, Hobbs asked President Joe Biden to shift some of the 243 members of the National Guard working on federal orders in the Tucson sector to reopen the Lukeville port. She called on the Biden administration to send additional Guard members to assist if necessary.
The recent surge in migrants "is absolutely straining our capacity, which is why we have continued to talk to the feds about the need for additional support," Hobbs said, taking aim at inaction from federal officials when it comes to addressing the border. "And again, I'll share my continued frustration at this situation and their lack of response that's costing the state of Arizona taxpayers."
National Guard troops can serve on the orders of Hobbs or the president. Because immigration and border enforcement is a federal government responsibility, soldiers can only do the duties of Customs and Border Protection such as reopening the port if they are called up by the president, according to Hobbs' office.
Hobbs requested the federal government repay the state over $500 million it has spent from a dedicated Border Security Fund created in 2021 by Republicans in the Legislature and signed into law by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. That law requires Arizona's governor to request reimbursement from the federal government. Hobbs asked the money be repaid to cover the state's costs to transport migrants from the border, interdict drugs and support law enforcement.
The state will also dedicate $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, a Biden-approved COVID-19 relief program, to staff a new border security office within the state Department of Homeland Security.
That office will help local, state and federal agencies working at the border communicate, according to Hobbs' spokesperson Christian Slater. Hobbs announced a similar communication effort in May, prior to the federal government ending a public health policy called Title 42 that was used to turn away migrants. Slater said the new border security office would be more proactive about border issues and more robust because of the funding that will allow it to hire dedicated staff.
That funding will keep the office open for a year. Slater would not say whether Hobbs would push to make it a permanent office, saying he would "wait until the executive budget comes out to speak to that.”
Hobbs will debut a budget proposal in early January. Should it include border-related funding, the proposal might give the Democratic governor some common ground with Republicans, who make up the majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
The Lukeville Port of Entry is about 115 miles south of Phoenix and one of six crossings between Arizona and Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed the port Monday impacting pedestrians and vehicle traffic along State Route 85, a key trade and tourism route. It is the main road from Phoenix and Tucson to the beach town of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, also known as Rocky Point.
Federal immigration officials said officers at Lukeville were being reassigned to help U.S. Border Patrol agents process migrants. Since the summer, thousands of migrants have crossed the Arizona-Mexico border daily in the areas near Lukeville, such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Tohono O'Odham Nation.
That influx of migrants, most of whom wait to be picked up and claim asylum, has taxed federal immigration resources. The Border Patrol began releasing asylum seekers into southern Arizona communities in mid-September, prompting local governments and nonprofits to step in to provide those people with resources like transportation or shelter.
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at email@example.com or 480-416-5669.