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Pima County officials warn asylum seeker program is being forced to an end as federal funding wanes

A Pima County-run program that offers transportation, food, medical care and temporary shelter to asylum seekers released into the United States may end by April. That, as the federal funding that’s been sustaining it has run out. 

Asylum seekers processed along the border in Arizona often come to Tucson for about 48 hours. The Pima County program has been active since 2019 and services are provided by Catholic Community Services. The program receives federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

County Administrator Jan Lesher says right now the county is seeing an average of about 1,000 asylum seekers and migrants a day, about half of whom are coming from Santa Cruz and Cochise counties. Providing services is costing about $1 million per week and $4 million a month.

"People will come back and say, we’ve allocated another $2 million, we’ve allocated another million dollars. And with all due respect, we certainly appreciate those dollars … that’s another week," she said at the Feb. 20 Board of Supervisors meeting. 

Lesher says the latest round of funding is set to run out by March 31 — as negotiations over border funding continue to stall in Congress. 

memo penned by Lesher this month says the full county program is set to wind down by the end of March and, without of those services, street releases of migrants in Tucson could begin April 1. The memo also lays out options for a more bare-bones operation, but cautions against using money from the county's general fund to do it. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.