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Pima County leaders vote to apply for more federal funding for asylum seeker program

Pima County will apply for more federal funding to bolster its asylum seeker care program. That — as local leaders weigh their options about the county's role in that process. 

Pima County has received roughly $98 million in funding since 2019 to provide aid like food, transportation and shelter to migrants asylum seekers released by the Border Patrol in southern Arizona.

The county received nearly $22 million during the the latest round in April. That money’s expected to last until the end of this year. This week, County administrator Jan Lesher said the program has prioritized making sure migrants and asylum seekers are not being dropped off without services, at places like bus stops. 

"We remain the only jurisdiction, we believe, in the United States, that has not seen street releases. And our number one goal is to make sure we do not have street releases," she said.

But program has been on unsteady ground for months now — operations have been driven to the brink several times as local officials await more federal funding to keep it going. Lesher told supervisors that has had some county officials considering whether to forgo making additional funding requests. 

"It is not our desire to simply drop the baton on the ground, but to make sure that we have the next several months to pass the baton to the next runner, if you will," she said. 

Lesher said one option was to find new partners to run the program instead of the county — like NGOs, or state and local entities.

But in a 3-1 vote, county supervisors decided the county would re-apply for federal funding to ensure the program remained on its feet.

The vote comes just as the Biden administration's new executive order vastly limiting asylum at the border goes into effect.

The new rule, which became active this morning at 12:01, is triggered when the number of daily apprehensions along the border surpasses 2,500 people. It remains in effect until that number drops below 1,500 a day for seven days.

Migrants and asylum seekers apprehended under the order are subject to an expedited deportation process and could be barred from seeking protection in the U.S. — despite international agreements that require it.

In a statement responding to the action, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said it was a "departure from the more humane and just border response" seen from the Biden administration in the past. She said the president should instead use his authority to protect Dreamers and other immigrant members of the community. 

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