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As budget deadline looms in D.C., Arizona leaders say border funding is still elusive

Congress is facing a deadline at the end of this week to decide on a budget for the Department of Homeland Security. The deadline comes as lawmaker negotiations continue to stalemate.

Money from FEMA's Shelter and Services Program and elsewhere within the DHS is what funds local efforts — like those in Tucson and Phoenix — to aid migrants released by the Border Patrol to await asylum hearings. But that funding has been held up as lawmakers debate how federal funds should be spent at the border.

Arizona is currently one of the busiest sections of the border for migrant and asylum seekers. Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway says his county’s emergency management team works with Pima County to transport people processed and dropped off at the border in Nogales to a shelter in Tucson. 

"There’s this false narrative that these asylum seekers are coming here to get on welfare and to get on public assistance programs, and they don’t. When they're processed at the border and they get on those buses to Tucson, they just think it’s the next step in the process," he said. "They have their own money, and they're typically going either by airplane, passenger plane or by bus, and they do have a sponsor."

Most asylum seekers spend around 48 hours in Tucson or Phoenix before making their own, self-funded travel plans. Still, Pima County officials warn the services they're currently providing — like transportation from smaller border towns, short-term medical care and shelter —  aren't sustainable on local money alone. County leaders estimate the program is costing roughly $1 million a week and without additional federal funding, they’ll be forced to shutter or drastically curtail operations by the end of this month.

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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.