This week, Arizona 360 returned to the border, a topic poised to receive increased attention as the 2020 campaign season ramps up. A number of United States citizens can vote from Mexico, where the U.S. Department of State estimates more than a million U.S. citizens live. To understand more about how the U.S. aids its citizens abroad, Lorraine Rivera traveled to the U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Sonora, where she sat down with Consul General Virginia Staab.
“We have basically three priorities,” Staab said. “First and foremost is always the safety and security of American citizens that are either living here or visiting here. Our second priority is really to increase security for both countries, for both the United States and Mexico. And then third is to streamline trade.”
Recent months have seen worrying incidents, including the discovery of a mass grave on the outskirts of Rocky Point and the murders of nine family members who belonged to a Mormon community with dual citizenship in northeastern Sonora.
“We have been in very close contact with the family. We helped them immediately afterwards, and we continue to provide services to them,” Staab said. “It was a real tragedy for both Mexico and the United States.”
In Sonora, the consulate has also taken steps to help advance the lives of its residents in Nogales, regardless of their nationalities. Last year it partnered with the University of Arizona for a program aimed at developing more female entrepreneurs in the city. At her previous post in Guatemala, Staab also led the department’s efforts to deter children from getting involved with gangs.
“The State Department has always focused on building the next generation and really investing in other countries so that it alleviates some of the problems that are in the United States. For example, if we’re able to empower youth in Guatemala and we’re able to keep them out of gangs and make sure they are future generations for their own country, they might be less incentivized to come to the United States to look for a future there,” Staab said.
After years of renovations, a new migrant outreach center is nearly complete in Nogales, Sonora, offering nearly 50 times more space than the building it's replacing. Lorraine Rivera got a tour of Kino Border Initiative’s new facility ahead of its opening.
Kino Border Initiative executive director Rev. Sean Carroll told Rivera that the nonprofit successfully fundraised nearly $3 million for the new facility. Features include a dining hall that can seat 160 people, space to shelter dozens of people overnight and several offices.
“When a migrant is speaking with an attorney or talking about an abusive experience they can do that in the privacy of an office,” Carroll said.
Ever-changing patterns in immigration at Arizona’s border are woven into Kino Border Initiative’s history based on the people who walk through its doors each day. Years ago, staff and volunteers served mostly single men from Mexico who were deported from the U.S. These days they’re more used to aiding an influx of families from southern Mexico, and beyond, who come to seek asylum.
“I see the need continuing over time. And certainly with the current policies that are being implemented, and probably other policies as well in the future, that really I think disrespect the dignity of the people that we’re serving,” Carroll said.
Since January — when the Department of Homeland Security expanded the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols to include Nogales, Arizona — about 160 people seeking asylum have been returned across the border to wait for their court dates. Arizona Republic reporter Rafael Carranza discussed the program’s impact so far.
“A lot of the nonprofits that help migrants in Nogales, Sonora, are concerned about what the future looks like because there are already thousands of migrants waiting to claim asylum,” Carranza said.
Migrants sent to Nogales have court in El Paso. They have to cross in Juarez, which is almost 300 miles away. “You have to go through some frankly very dangerous territory. Especially in the mountainous areas between Sonora and Chihuahua,” Carranza said.
Since January 2019, more than 56,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico to await their immigration hearings in the U.S. Seven ports of entry across the southern border currently implement the program.
Controlled blasting on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for a border wall project led to uproar over concerns the explosions damaged cultural sites significant to the Tohono O’odham Nation. It also resulted in conflicting statements from the tribe and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva shared a video on Twitter on Feb. 9 where he claimed the blasts disturbed the graves of Apache warriors.
“Where they were blasting the other day on Monument Hill is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O’odham. And then the O’odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill,” Grijalva said in the video.
In subsequent statements, Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. said the construction would “irrevocably harm cultural sites, sacred sites and the environment.” He went on to add that federal agencies had not held meaningful consultations with the nation.
Customs and Border Protection told Arizona Public Media in an email that the Border Patrol Tucson Sector’s tribal liaisons have had constant communication with leadership, including meetings about border wall construction since May 2019. Another statement from the agency said its own surveys did not identify any biological, cultural or historical sites in the project area.
The project calls for 43 miles of 30-foot bollard fencing along Organ Pipe. According to Customs and Border Protection, the controlled blasts are expected to continue intermittently throughout the month.
Ahead of President Trump’s campaign rally in Phoenix on Feb. 19, Lorraine Rivera sat down with Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash to discuss Arizona’s significance to the president’s re-election bid, as well as how immigration will factor into his platform.
As Arizona nears its own Democratic presidential preference election on March 17, Lorraine Rivera spoke to Arizona Democratic Party Chair Felecia Rotellini about how the party plans to build support for its candidates in what’s being increasingly viewed as a swing state.