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In Nogales, lawmakers, local officials lambast failure to pass migrant reform

Lawmakers and local officials were in Nogales Monday morning — where they say Congress is fueling a crisis by failing to pass border and immigration reform. 

The reform in question is a sweeping funding billdrafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers earlier this year. It included money for more Border Patrol agents and asylum officers, and big overhauls to the asylum system and work permit process.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway told reporters he wants to see reforms like additional immigration judges and court resources. 

"The immigration judges, the paralegals, the administrative staff for the judges, that was in the bill," he said. 

But the measure has so far failed to get the votes to pass. Congressman Ruben Gallego, who joined Hathaway, Attorney General Kris Mayes and other local officials in Nogales, said the bill also included funding for enhanced drug detection measures at ports of entry — now that equipment doesn't have the funding to function.  

"Right now, according to acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller, scanners to detect fentanyl being smuggled across the border sit in warehouses right here in Nogales … unused," he said. 

Homeland Security announced the enhanced interdiction efforts in Nogales almost a year ago to the day. Early this month, Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller told NBC the agency needed around $300 million in funding to get the machines installed.

Gallego said as Congress approaches a funding deadline in the coming weeks, lawmakers should prioritize border states by securing money for first responders, local law enforcement and aid groups helping migrants and asylum seekers. Pima County officials have also warned their program to help asylum seekers legally processed into the U.S. for court dates will be forced to a halt this month without more federal funding.

Mayes said her office is already prosecuting drug smugglers, but without the border screening, product is still flowing through.

"I would estimate that millions of pills are coming across the border right now as we speak because these scanners are not in place. And that’s because a bunch of politicians in Washington are bickering with each other," she said. 

Just over 13,000 pounds of fentanyl was seized along the border in Arizona between October 2022 and September of last year, according to CBP data. Analysts using federal data say the vast majority of fentanyl smuggling occurs at ports of entry, often by U.S. citizens.

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